What is symbolic about Scout’s clothing choice in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Scout’s use of overalls is symbolic because they demonstrate her independence.

Scout is a girl, but she hangs out with boys more than girls because there are not many kids to play with in her neighborhood. As a result, she is a tomboy.  She likes to wear overalls because she can’t “do nothing” in a dress. 

Aunt Alexandra tells Scout that she should be a perfect lady and a “ray of sunshine” in her father’s life.

I suggested that one could be a ray of sunshine in pants just as well, but Aunty said that one had to behave like a sunbeam, that I was born good but had grown progressively worse every year. (ch 9)

This hurts Scout’s feelings and upsets her.  She likes to run and play.  She even fights like a boy.  It is a part of her personality.  She does not appreciate Aunt Alexandra trying to turn her into someone that she is not. 

Scout marches to her own drummer.  She has a unique way of looking at the world, and that is reflected in her manner of dress.  She is not a bad kid, but she is an opinionated one.

On another level, the pants symbolize rigid gender roles in the South at this time.  Scout is expected to look and act a certain way.  If she does not, she is not a lady and that is terrible.  Scout does not like being pushed into a box any more than Tom Robinson or Boo Radley.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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