How Old Is The Girl In A Girl Named Tom Gender Stereotypes in The Crucible, Huckleberry Finn, and To Kill a Mockingbird

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Gender Stereotypes in The Crucible, Huckleberry Finn, and To Kill a Mockingbird

Despite Western culture’s progress beyond dueling, chastity belts, or smelling salts, most of us agree that there is still work to be done before we cross “gender equality” off the old to-do list. The popularity of many gender stereotypes certainly doesn’t help, especially when you consider how long some of them have been around. For a quick overview of some American stereotypes, let’s look at three American literary classics.

Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” set during the Salem witch trials in Puritan New England, begins when two girls fall ill after being caught dancing in the woods at night. The locals immediately jump to the conclusion that they’re involved in witchcraft, and since denial is more dangerous than admission, the girls have no choice but to agree… Whereupon they implicate a bunch of other people just for kicks.

As the witch hunt spirals out of control, it is interesting to note that the suspects are almost exclusively women. This sets up an interesting chain of logic: forests; wizardry; women. The seventeenth-century association between femininity and wildness suggests that structured, civilized society falls under the domain of men. Which shouldn’t surprise you too much considering how few women are in positions of political power in The Crucible. (See also: none.) We guess that’s why they call it Mother Nature and not Uncle Earth.

Another well-known gender stereotype can be found in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. After taking off down the Mississippi River, Huck must hide his identity to prevent people from discovering that he is a lost and endangered child. During his first foray into town, Huck poses as a girl on his way to visit relatives. Although the woman Huck stays with doesn’t fool around, she good-naturedly decides to give him advice on how to pass for a girl.

High on this list of feminine attributes is throwing clumsily and inaccurately, suggesting that physical prowess is primarily a masculine trait. (And if “throw like a girl” is anything to go by, the stereotype is alive and well today.) It’s one thing to acknowledge that men are, on average, stronger than women, but to insist that women are physically clumsy is another entirely .

Which brings us to Harper Lee’s civil rights masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird. The popular narrator of the novel is a six-year-old cat named Scout with a quick mind, a sharp tongue and a mean right hook. She hangs out with her brother’s friends and sometimes has to be held back from fighting with boys who are older than her. Her curmudgeonly Aunt Alexandria tries in vain to teach her about dresses, polite language, and tea, but with little success: Scout tries to never become “girly.”

While you could easily argue that a little girl imitating her rambunctious older brother is no more deviant than a little girl imitating, say, her classy and proper mother, the point is this: so much human behavior is simple. in keeping with a given social climate, it’s hard to say what unadulterated masculinity or femininity might actually be—or if these states even exist.

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