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Mockingbird Passing

Closeted Traditions and Sexual Curiosities in Harper Lee’s Novel

Holly Blackford

Publication Year: 2011

How often does a novel earn its author both the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded to Harper Lee by George W. Bush in 2007, and a spot on a list of “100 best gay and lesbian novels”? Clearly, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee’s Pulitzer Prize–winning tale of race relations and coming of age in Depression-era Alabama, means many different things to many different people. In Mockingbird Passing, Holly Blackford invites the reader to view Lee’s beloved novel in parallel with works by other iconic American writers—from Emerson, Whitman, Stowe, and Twain to James, Wharton, McCullers, Capote, and others. In the process, she locates the book amid contesting literary traditions while simultaneously exploring the rich ambiguities that define its characters. Blackford finds the basis of Mockingbird’s broad appeal in its ability to embody the mainstream culture of romantics like Emerson and social reform writers like Stowe, even as alternative canons—southern gothic, deadpan humor, queer literatures, regional women’s novels—lurk in its subtexts. Central to her argument is the notion of “passing”: establishing an identity that conceals the inner self so that one can function within a closed social order. For example, the novel’s narrator, Scout, must suppress her natural tomboyishness to become a “lady.” Meanwhile, Scout’s father, Atticus Finch, must contend with competing demands of thoughtfulness, self-reliance, and masculinity that ultimately stunt his effectiveness within an unjust society. Blackford charts the identity dilemmas of other key characters—the mysterious Boo Radley, the young outsider Dill (modeled on Lee’s lifelong friend Truman Capote), the oppressed victim Tom Robinson—in similarly intriguing ways. Queer characters cannot pass unless, like the narrator, Miss Maudie, and Cal, they split into the “modest double life.” In uncovering To Kill a Mockingbird’s lively conversation with a diversity of nineteenth- and twentieth-century writers and tracing the equally diverse journeys of its characters, Blackford offers a myriad of fresh insights into why the novel has retained its appeal for so many readers for over fifty years. At once Victorian, modern, and postmodern, Mockingbird passes in many canons.

Published by: The University of Tennessee Press


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pp. ix


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pp. xi

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Introduction: Miss Jean Louise, Your Novel’s about Passin’

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pp. 1-43

“Was I sleeping, while the others suffered? Am I sleeping now? Tomorrow, when I wake, or think I do, what shall I say of today? That with Estragon my friend, at this place, until the fall of night, I waited for Godot? That Pozzo passed, with his carrier, and that he spoke to us? Probably. But in all that what truth will there be? He’ll know nothing. He’ll tell me about the blows he received and I’ll give him a...

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1. Mockingbird and Nineteenth-Century Philosophy: A Test Case for the American Scholar

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pp. 45-87

The canonization of Lee’s Mockingbird can be at least partially, if not mostly, attributed to its refinement of the American romance. Aspects of its style are congruent with the symbolism-infused romances of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville, observes Robert Butler (124), as is its content. A long line of nineteenth-century texts in which men have followed individual conscience and pursued independence at the expense of their social reputation...

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2. Mockingbird and the Nineteenth-Century Novel: Testimony to the Mythic Power of Uncle Tom Melodrama

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pp. 89-130

Not only does “A Child’s Reminiscence” characterize the style and “backthrust” (Dave 53) rhythm of Mockingbird, but Whitman’s refrain of pending “Death, Death, Death, Death, Death” becomes the relentless song sung by the novel, as if a regenerative cycle “out of the cradle endlessly rocking.” The popularity of Mockingbird’s dark, ironic vision of American history, the fate...

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3. Mockingbird and Modernist Method: Child Consciousness, or How Scout Knew

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pp. 131-169

Stowe’s novel is characterized by an omniscient Victorian narrator overtly in control of the story’s presentation. Like a stage director, she invites us to revisit certain characters, tells us she will leave certain others to their activities for awhile, and pleads directly for our sympathies in a passionate second address, in the fashion of Susanna Rowson’s Charlotte Temple. The narrator...

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4. Mockingbird and Modernist Polyphony: How Scout Tells, How Lee Laughs

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pp. 171-206

There are particular continuities in the voices of all the Scouts identified in chapter 3—narrator, focalizer, and character. They all share an insider/outsider position in relation to their communities and, as such, speak a variety of tongues. In the same sentence, you might find the narrator using words like “synonymous” and “jackass” (5), or “unknown entity the mere description...

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5. Mockingbird and Post–World War II Southern Writing: Dill, Capote, and the Dragging Out of Boo Radley

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pp. 207-259

Mockingbird features an impressively long line of neglected children: Boo Radley; Mayella and her siblings; the lunchless Walter who craves sugary syrup; the motherless Scout, at whom the neighbors are shaking their heads; the mixed-race children, who sadly belong nowhere (says Jem); and the boy nicknamed Dill, perhaps the quintessential symbol of the child in perpetual...

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6. Mockingbird and Modern Women’s Regional Writing: Awakening, Passing, and Passing Out

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pp. 261-314

If the ending image of Atticus’s bedside vigil shows him in a posture of both “Waiting for Godot” and of reading, thus echoing the politically charged closing of Frederick Douglass’s first slave narrative, the ending image of Scout distills the feelings of sleepiness and stillness that have been increasingly overwhelming her in the final third of the novel. The unnatural stillness of...

Works Cited

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pp. 315-330


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pp. 331-349

E-ISBN-13: 9781572338005
E-ISBN-10: 1572338008
Print-ISBN-13: 9781572337497
Print-ISBN-10: 1572337494

Page Count: 362
Publication Year: 2011