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‘I Don’t Want to be a [White] Girl’: Gender, Race and Resistance in the Southern Gothic

  • Meredith Miller

Abstract

‘By watching her I began to think there was some skill involved in being a girl.’1 So says Scout, white tomboy narrator of Harper Lee’s 1963 novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Scout’s one role model for femininity is Calpurnia, her family’s African-American servant. In Mockingbird, Lee pastiches a generic formula established more than a decade earlier by Carson McCullers and Truman Capote. Crucial ingredients in this recipe include Gothic effects, gender dissident white focalising characters, black women servants and the violence of Southern racism. The film adaptation of Lee’s novel makes the struggle between Scout and Calpurnia over femininity even more explicit. In a scene where Calpurnia urges Scout to be more ladylike, Scout responds angrily, ‘I don’t want to be a girl.’2 This chapter explores the relationship between these three things — race, gender and the Gothic — especially as they work within mid-twentieth-century Southern American literature. What use are Gothic effects in this body of work, and how can we think through their entanglement with narrative constructions of both race and femininity? The term which is under erasure in Scout’s protest is ‘white’ as her ‘ladylike’-ness is clearly racialised as white, yet her only point of feminine identification is as a black woman.

Keywords

Black Woman Psychological Model American Literature Wide Structure Subsequent Reference 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (London: Vintage Classics, 2004), 125.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Teresa Goddu, Gothic America: Narrative, History and Nation (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 9Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992).Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    See Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, ‘Three Women’s Texts and a Critique of Imperialism’, Critical Inquiry 12/2 (Autumn, 1985), 243–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 8.
    William White Tison Pugh, ‘Boundless Hearts in a Nightmare World: Queer Sentimentalism and Southern Gothicism in Truman Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms’, Mississippi Quarterly 51/4 (1998), 663–82Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, The Coherence of Gothic Conventions (North Stratford, New Hampshire: Ayer, 1999), 11.Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    See for example Raymond Williams, ‘Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory’ in John Higgins (ed.) The Raymond Williams Reader (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001), 158–78.Google Scholar
  8. 14.
    Truman Capote, Other Voices, Other Rooms (London: Heinemann, 1948), 4.Google Scholar
  9. 15.
    Truman Capote, ‘Preface’ to Other Voices, Other Rooms (London: Heinemann, 1968), x.Google Scholar
  10. 16.
    William White Tison Pugh, ‘Boundless Hearts in a Nightmare World: Queer Sentimentalism and Southern Gothicism in Truman Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms’, Mississippi Quarterly 51/4 (1998), 663–82.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Meredith Miller 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Meredith Miller
    • 1
  1. 1.University College FalmouthCornwallUK

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