How does Scout challenge Maycomb’s expectations of her as a girl?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, one way in which Scout challenges Maycomb's expectations for her as a girl is by being a tomboy. Scout displays her tomboyishness by wearing only overalls, not dresses as she is expected to do, and by playing only with boys, like her brother and Dill. She further displays her tomboyishness by picking physical fights with boys every time she feels provoked. For example, early in the book, Jem stops her from rubbing Walter Cunningham's nose in the dirt, saying to her, "You're bigger'n he is" (Ch. 3). As Scout explains, she was seeking revenge for getting into trouble by explaining to her first-grade teacher, Miss Caroline, the prideful ways of the Cunninghams and why Walter "didn't have any lunch" (Ch. 3). In Chapter 9, Scout also gets into trouble for punching her cousin Francis in the mouth after he calls Atticus a "nigger lover" and says he is the disgrace of the Finch family.

Beyond being a tomboy, Scout challenges Maycomb's expectations by being a very precocious child. We learn of her precociousness in the very first chapter. When Scout and Jem meet 6-year-old Dill for the first time, Dill announces he knows how to read already. Jem isn't impressed with the news since Scout, the same age as Dill and not yet in school, has, according to Jem, "been readin' ever since she was born" (Ch. 1). On Scout's first day of school, we learn that Jem isn't really exaggerating in his announcement. Scout astonishes Miss Caroline by already being able to read the alphabet, My First Reader, and the "stock-market quotations from The Mobile Register" (Ch. 2). However, Scout insists that no one really taught her how to read, and she can't really remember a time when she couldn't read. It's simply that, at some point, while being curled up in her father's lap as he read, the "lines above Atticus's moving finger separated into words" (Ch. 2). Sadly, Scout's young reading abilities do not impress Miss Caroline. Miss Caroline instead treats Scout as if she has done something wrong and commands her to stop reading, which breaks Scout's heart. Miss Caroline's treatment of Scout shows us that Scout has challenged Miss Caroline's expectations of Scout as a young girl, and Miss Caroline is not handling the challenge well.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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