What are some passages that show how Scout learned to be herself in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the beginning of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout feels self-conflicted because she is torn between wanting to be a tom boy and the fact that she is actually a girl. She at first resists the idea of being a girl because she sees it as nothing more than wearing dresses, "playing with small stoves, tea sets, and wearing the Add-A-Pearl necklace" given to her by her Aunt Alexandra (Ch. 9). She sees being a girl as nothing more than a "pink cotton penitentiary" (Ch. 14). Yet, as she matures, she grows to understand that to "be a lady" is really the equivalent of being a very courageous person, which helps her overcome her conflict and learn to be herself.

Scout first becomes acquainted with the idea that being a lady is being a courageous person upon Mrs. Dubose's death. Through the children's experience with Mrs. Dubose, Jem was able to learn something from Mrs. Dubose that Scout was still too young to fully understand at the time. Specifically, Jem learns that Mrs. Dubose was not just the cantankerous old woman everyone believed her to be; she was actually a "great lady" due to her extraordinary amount of courage (Ch. 11). After this lesson, Jem begins growing frustrated with Scout's immaturity and ordering her to start "bein' a girl and acting right!," whereas earlier he insulted her by calling her a girl each time she acted cowardly (Ch. 12). Jem's sudden transformation shows us Jem has learned from Mrs. Dubose that to be a lady, or a girl, is to be courageous, much like he has already learned from his father that to be a gentleman is also to be courageous. Furthermore, Jem's new reaction to Scout's behavior plants a seed within Scout that helps her reach new conclusions about femininity later in the novel.

It's in Chapter 24 that Scout finally realizes the importance of being a lady. In Chapter 24, Scout is invited by Aunt Alexandra to join the missionary circle for refreshments as part of Aunt Alexandra's designs to train Scout to be a lady. However, sadly, the act of serving refreshments is interrupted by Atticus, who comes home to give the distressing news that Tom Robinson has been shot to death in prison, with an unjust number of 17 bullets. Aunt Alexandra and Miss Maudie are visibly distressed by the news. But, Scout is struck by the fact that they are able to pull themselves together, and under Miss Maudie's command, Scout pulls herself together as well. Scout is then impressed to see that Aunt Alexandra and Miss Maudie are able to return to their guests and reserve serving refreshments as if nothing had happened. She realizes that their behavior is intended to continue to pay their guests the respect they deserve, just as Atticus paid Tom Robinson the respect he deserved by bravely defending him in court.

The moment Scout is able to equate putting on a brave face during moments of adversity in order to continue to show respect to others with being a lady is the moment Scout begins to understand that to be a lady requires the utmost bravery. It is also at this moment that Scout decides she can accept her role in life to be a lady. Scout's acceptance of being a lady is particularly seen in the following passage:

I carefully picked up the tray and watched myself walk to Mrs. Merriweather. With my best company manners, I asked if she would have some. After all, if Aunty could be a lady at a time like this, so could I. (Ch. 24)

Scout's acceptance of her role as a lady shows that she is no longer in conflict with herself and has finally learned to be herself.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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