Mockingbird, Watchman, and the Adolescent.
The coalescence of literature of adolescence with YAL is a noteworthy literary development for two reasons: (1) the high adult readership of YAL suggests that adolescence is no longer an easily identifiable category of age, and (2) the blended classification of YAL with literature of adolescence suggests that Mockingbird no longer qualifies as merely southern literature. Instead, Mockingbird helps position adolescence and childhood as the connecting bridge between southern literature and YAL genres. Additionally, reading southern canonical texts, like Mockingbird, in terms of YAL or adolescence(ts) provides a new point of orientation for southern literary studies more broadly. (9) Petrone et al. propose using a "Youth Lens" (YL) to interrogate constructions of adolescence(ts) in YAL particularly and in literature generally. The YL is "the idea that adolescence is a construct, that adolescence does not represent a universal experience for all youth, that conceptions of adolescence have material consequences, and that adolescence often functions metaphorically in ideological ways" (508). (10) Using the YL equips readers to witness the ramifications and "material consequences" of assuming an adult-normative perspective about adolescence(ts) in works of YAL or southern literature (509). (11)
Additionally, traditional discourse has overlooked how the figure of the child "works to establish race as a central shaping element of ostensibly raceless Western ideals" in US rhetoric (Levander 3). The child stabilizes racial hierarchy, defines belonging, and merges the notion of the self with the culture so that the nation appropriates the idea of the child to regulate racialized conceptions of the self and community (4-5). Racism becomes naturalized through the represented child, who "links slavery to black bodies and liberty to white ones in order to found the nation and then reinforce its organizing racial ideals as it eradicates slavery" (33). In discourse theory, James Paul Gee dubs this naturalized representation of ideas, concepts, or images as a "figured world," or internalized cultural model that is deployed to navigate, experience, and order social situations and give meaning to those social interactions (95). For Gee, "figured worlds" help deconstruct, naturalize, and order social situations in ways that work for or against internalized cultural models. Katherine Henninger contends that Mockingbird becomes a type of "figured world" for the national imaginary so that what it "preserves--creates in order to preserve--is white Southern childhood as American childhood, a salvational space-time awakening of white double consciousness and coming into a childlike racial innocence that can put it safely back to bed" (608). (12) Yet Watchman dissolves the ideological readings of its predecessor, critiquing without resolving the campaign of racial innocence at the heart of Mockingbird, and this ideological dissolution causes dissatisfaction for the Finchified "figured worlds" within the national imaginary (Henninger 608).
Relevant to Henninger's reading of Mockingbird, Scott Romine's theory of cultural reproduction examines how a narrative becomes appropriated as the controlling idea of southern identity, and by extension, national identity. Romine argues that cultural reproduction occurs when we substitute fantasy for a reality and then distort the original object in the act of fiction-making. Fiction-making yields nostalgic desire by defamiliarizing and distorting the original, rendering the object "inaccessible" since it can only operate within the landscape of fantasy and nostalgia--as a product of both the past and the future (Real South 59-62). The reproduction of the nostalgic desire for the fantasy object becomes cultural when it is applied broadly to a culture and reproduced as the controlling idea of that culture (36-37). As Romine contends, in Gone with the Wind, Tara becomes a Active site to which all real and historical sites attempt (literally and figuratively) to return by upholding a nostalgia for an imagined antebellum South and by organizing itself around themes of loss, memory, and desire. The nostalgia manifests itself as a type of homesickness that positions Tara as if it were "home," causing the reader to see Tara as a lost ideal and desire to reclaim it as home (28-29). (13) Essentially, nostalgia for Tara "mobilizes an idea of culture" by using a fantasy to perpetuate a specific relationship to reality: Tara operates as the South's "figured world" (59). By the same token, the nostalgia experienced via Scout as protagonist and Scout as narrator positions the world of Mockingbird as a lost ideal that the reader memorializes and desires in the act of reading. The nostalgia produces homesickness in the reader for a return to the "home" of southern adolescence: Mockingbird.
Mockingbird 'continues to hold a privileged place as a canonical text inside and outside of academic and educational spheres. The well-worn cover of my particular copy heralds it as "A Timeless Classic of Growing Up and the Human Dignity That Unites Us All." If I were to read this description as an equation, the sum of "Growing Up" and "Human Dignity That Unites Us All" yields a narrative that is considered timeless and classic, one that transcends static boundaries of time, place, or relevance. Even the paratext primes the pump for nostalgic engagement with Mockingbird. (14) My intention here is not to enter into a reductive debate about what constitutes a "timeless classic"; instead, what I find worth probing is the assumed parallels between growing up and the novel's status as a canonical American and southern literary text.
I propose that Mockingbird and its companion text, Watchman, work in tandem to establish a new type of figured world for YAL and southern literature, one that becomes fixed in the national imaginary as the cultural model for conceptualizing the South and adolescence(ts), one that is racialized through investment in nostalgia, southern exceptionalism, and adult normativity. Although Henninger and Romine offer insight into how works of southern literature present master narratives produced by figured worlds for or about the South, neither tackles the implications of reading Mockingbird or Watchman as literature of adolescence(ts) or as YAL texts. Thus, I incorporate Petrone et al.'s YL theory to make connections between Scout and Jean Louise as stand-ins that uphold a racialized and exceptionalist understanding of southern identity and adolescence(ts). (15) By analyzing the ways that Scout and Jean Louise first subscribe to projects of racial innocence and southern exceptionalism, I demonstrate how Scout and Jean Louise's adolescence has the power to disrupt the racialized childhoods that each helped to sustain. Finally, I connect the nostalgic desire at the heart of Mockingbird and Watchman to projects of southern, Finchified figured worlds in YAL.
As Scout matures through the course of Mockingbird, she reorders her figured world(s) through awareness of race. Though Watchman continuously reasserts that Jean Louise does not see color, I put these two texts in dialogue in order to demonstrate how Scout's childhood defines and is defined by race, causing Mockingbird to act as a bolster to the pillars of southern exceptionalism even as it destabilizes them. Through analyzing scenes when Scout as narrator reflects upon childhood moments imbued with racial awareness, and then examining how Jean Louise applies that exceptionalism to her own adolescence, I discuss how Scout acts as a controlling figure for conceptions about the South, adolescence(ts), and southern exceptionalism in the US national imaginary.
Nostalgia, Exceptionalism and Scout's Figured Worlds
Svetlana Boym associates nostalgia with a "yearning for a different time--the time of our childhood, the slower rhythms of our dreams" (xv). The nostalgic desire for return drives the restorative nostalgia that Boym defines as the "attempt to conquer and spatialize time" through a return to a reimagined and fictionalized home even though "it's not your home; by the time you reach it, you will have already forgotten the difference" (49, 44). While restorative nostalgia fixates time to a particular place, reflective nostalgia preserves the temporal fragments of that place. Restorative and reflective nostalgia work in tandem to bind "national past and future" with "individual and cultural memory" (49). Likewise, contemporary southern exceptionalism uses nostalgia to "narrate the relationship between past, present and future" (50). Southern exceptionalism becomes "the 'exception to the exception' that ratifies the rule of American exceptionalism, in the double sense of both norm and hegemony" and turns the images of southern exceptionalism into "individual and cultural memory" for the region and nation (Chong 308; Boym 49). When Mockingbird evokes nostalgia, it comes from a desire to preserve southern exceptionalism within the temporalized and Active space of Scout's childhood in Maycomb, Alabama.
For the reader, Scout's childhood leaves the pages of narrative and transforms into a controlling narrative for the national imaginary. Because Mockingbird's narrative contains two temporalities (Scout the protagonist experiences the plot and Scout the narrator recounts the plot), the reader experiences Scout's childhood as events happening and events happened, meaning that Scout the narrator invites a level of nostalgia about Scout the protagonist. The restorative principle and the reflective principle fill the gap between the two temporalities of the text, transforming engagement with Scout into a nostalgic yearning for a return home that is, at its core, a "romance with one's own fantasy" (Boym xiii). What is interesting is that this nostalgia occurs in real time within the act of reading so that the reader experiences nostalgic desire via Scout the narrator for the present experience of Scout the protagonist. The nostalgia for Scout's narrative, then, compels the reader to imagine ownership of the narrative in an attempt to locate the "sentiment of loss and displacement" through the restorative and reflective preservation of temporalized space within the act of reading. Through nostalgia, the reader builds a fantasyland about Scout and the South through a fictive return to childhood, particularly a southern childhood, within Mockingbird. Because it refashions individual experience as collective memory, nostalgia prompts the reader to use Scout's experiences, and by extension Mockingbird, as the figured world through which childhood becomes southern; moreover, this nostalgia, when left unquestioned, produces a figured world of childhood that is racialized and exceptionalist. As such, Mockingbird metamorphoses into a controlling narrative about the South, adolescence(ts), and race. As readers, we witness this transformation and its interrogation in two compelling scenes: Scout and Jem's creation of a "nigger snowman" (75-76) and Scout's courthouse encounter with Dolphous Raymond (183-84).
When snow falls in Maycomb for the first time in decades, Jem and Scout decide to build a snowman with what little snow had stuck to the ground of their house and the houses of their neighbors. As Scout rakes up the snow, Jem begins to mold dirt over tree branches from the yard "until he had constructed a torso," to which Scout responds: "Jem, I ain't ever heard of a nigger snowman" (75). Having no preconceived notion of a snowman made of more than snow, Scout uses what she does know (race as skin color) to understand Jem's snowman. For Scout, the snowman now has a specific social identity: it has a race. The fact that she uses a racial epithet illustrates how Scout assigns both a race and a social identity based upon the color of the snowman. Furthermore, since the snowman serves to represent human form, constructed through natural materials, the snowman constitutes a type of embodiment of humanity. Therefore, Scout's need to "figure" the snowman illustrates how her moment of play naturalizes and reveals whiteness as the universal norm for Maycombian society and any form of blackness as a threat to that white normativity.
Having placed a social label on the snowman, and rejected it due to its label, Scout cannot see a snowman as a raceless object. As Scout the narrator further recounts, "Jem scooped up some snow and began plastering it on. He permitted me to cover only the back, saving the public parts for himself. Gradually Mr. Avery turned white" (76). In "saving the public parts for himself," Jem inadvertently places higher value on the public's perception and affirmation of his snowman. Jem wants his neighbors to see the "white" side of the snowman. Scout the narrator shows this value to be racialized by demonstrating that the snowman did not turn into Mr. Avery, their neighbor, but rather that Mr. Avery became white, indicating his racial and social standing in Maycomb. (16) Thus, when Atticus, insists on changes to the snowman so that it does not resemble a specific person, Scout narrates, "Jem explained that if he did, the snowman would become muddy and cease to be a snowman." In fact, Atticus describes the snowman as a "caricature," which Jem mistakes as "characterture" (76). A caricature exaggerates the original in order to create an ironic double purpose. Either the flaws of the caricature are exaggerated to highlight the difference between the original and the caricature so that the joke is on the untruthfulness of the portrait, or the flaws of the original are exaggerated to highlight the truth of the portrait, and thus the joke rests upon the original.
When Jem misunderstands Atticus, Lee creates an ironic humor for the audience by implying that a "caricature" and a "characterture" might be the same thing. What is interesting about this "characterture" is that Jem's ironic misrecognition occurs on two levels. On the one hand, it contrasts the snowman with Mr. Avery, delineating the similarities between the figure of the snowman and the characterization of the neighbor. On the other hand, it contrasts one type of acceptable snowman (Mr. Avery) with an unacceptable type of snowman marked by the racial epithet. While Atticus's reference to caricature is a response to the snowman's resemblance to Mr. Avery, the snowman itself might also be understood to be the object of the caricature. Atticus's recognition and Jem's misrecognition create a pleasurable slippage when directed at Mr. Avery; however, when directed at the blackened snowman, the slippage reveals the implications of their play.
As Robin Bernstein argues, "Children do not passively receive culture. Rather, children expertly field the co-scripts of narrative and material culture and then collectively forge a third prompt: play itself" (29). By creating a racialized object through play, Jem and Scout assign rules to the characters, the snowman and Mr. Avery, that elevate one snowman through the rejection of the other snowman. If the blackened snowman is a caricature of black men and women in Maycomb, then, through play, Jem and Scout ascribe racial identity to the snowman, rejecting blackness in favor of their own whiteness. While I do not propose that building a snowman is a racist act, this scene illustrates how Scout's childhood operates from an assumption of white normativity. In the historical context of the narrative, such an assumption would not be uncommon for a white southerner.
Nevertheless, as this scene illustrates, Scout reproduces for readers a white-normative childhood that elevates one race under the guise of humor and racial innocence. Through Scout's supposed ignorance of what a snowman can and cannot be, "Lee tweaks American literary conventions of childhood racial innocence, presenting such innocence as as much acquired as it is natural" (Henninger 607). Racial innocence is embodied and naturalized in the snowman so that when Scout finally does "rake him up," she disposes of the threat to her white normativity while forgetting in the act of raking the raced connotation that initially surrounds the snowman. As the logic of Scout's system of nomenclature is so incongruous, the racial innocence that bolsters this scene hides behind the ironic humor of Scout's misrecognition. Because Scout as narrator implies one thing through demonstrating the falsity in its opposite, the reader can experience the pleasure of the irony without examining the problem it identifies: Scout's investment in her community's racial innocence. What creates ambiguity about racial innocence, or remembering only to forget, is the fact that Scout returns to this scene as the narrator. Her return to this moment in her childhood suggests her inability to forget the raced implications of her play, and her ironic tone in recounting the snowman incident creates distance between her adult self and her childhood self, and in so doing, indicates an awareness of her own racial innocence. Since Scout's retelling of this scene reveals her own racial innocence, nostalgia is the force that drives her self-examination. Scout the narrator's conscious engagement with her childhood, and by extension her investment in southern exceptionalism therein, illustrates how Mockingbird's nostalgia can create desire that is "homesick and sick of home, at once" (Boym 50). Essentially, Scout longs for the innocence of a Finchified childhood while simultaneously using irony to distance herself from its racialized assumptions. Scout the narrator returns to Maycomb nostalgic for her childhood even as she interrogates it.
If the snowman scene serves to demonstrate Scout's adherence to the project of racial innocence, the scene with Dolphous Raymond and his biracial children complicates it. (17) During the infamous trial scene, Dill begins to cry at the prosecuting attorney's treatment of Tom Robinson. Jem sends Scout and Dill out of the courthouse where they meet Raymond (225-26). Scout the narrator reveals that Raymond, who had previously been introduced as a landowner from an old Maycomb family, is known as the town drunk and the father of "mixed chillun." Jem describes Raymond's children to Scout as "real sad" and "in-betweens" (183).
Though Jem's description of Raymond's biracial children encapsulates Bernstein's idea of racial innocence through his remembering only to forget, Scout's reaction to Jem's description interrogates his white-normative epistemology of race. When Jem comments on who qualifies as "mixed chillun" and who does not, Dill and Scout repeatedly ask: "But how can you tell?" (184). In other words, when faced with a biracial individual, Scout's previous figured world, whereby she ascribes race and social status to skin color, is rendered inapplicable. Even Scout's insistence on being able to "tell" suggests a need to make a verbal distinction between races. Because Scout's epistemology about race is based on her white-normativity and her racial innocence, verbalization of this epistemology ensures that it progresses within her community as she learns to "tell" others what she has been told.
By questioning Jem's ability to "tell," which is based on a factor other than skin color, Scout turns Jem's epistemology of race upside down. Invoking the paradox of Jem's telling, she asks: "Well how do you know we ain't Negroes?" (184). Citing the historical possibility that their racial ancestry may not be purely white, Scout subverts Jem's system of telling, which subverts his racial logic. Though Jem acknowledges the validity of Scout's questions, he concludes, "but around here once you have a drop of Negro blood, that makes you all black" (184). The irony here occurs in the slippage between Jem's ability to "tell" and his inability to verbalize or contextualize that telling. Jem reveals the inconsistency of his racial innocence by asserting that a "tell" exists and admitting that it relies on an uncertain measurement: "once you have a drop of Negro blood." Although Jem answers Scout's question by problematizing his ability to "tell," since he may very well have such a "drop of Negro blood," Jem does not continue to interrogate his racial innocence. In fact, the reader and Scout witness this most clearly in Jem's later outburst of anger about Scout's comparison of racial injustice and Hitler's regime of persecution (282-83). As Scout narrates in response to Jem's anger, "Atticus said that Jem was trying hard to forget something, but what he was really doing was storing it away for a while, until enough time passed" (283). Jem's anger at Scout's comparison signals his awareness of the flawed justifications for racial hierarchy. Whether consciously or not, Jem's attempt to forget the injustice the Maycomb community commits against Tom Robinson shows his willingness to subscribe to his community's racial innocence. Scout's narration of this instance leaves the reader with two possible conclusions: her acceptance of Jem's outburst or her awareness of its incongruity with his professed ideals.
Further interactions with Raymond and Scout's conclusions about her community's racial innocence lay the groundwork for Watchman's interrogation of Mockingbird's cultural reproduction of childhood and southern exceptionalism. As Dill expresses his feelings about the court proceedings, Raymond explains that he performs the actions of a drunk man so that society can enact its own form of racial innocence. By condemning Raymond as a drunk man, Maycomb can reject his choices while ignoring the real reason for their rejection (228). The narrator Scout intervenes: "I had a feeling that I shouldn't be here listening to this sinful man who had mixed children and didn't care who knew it, but he was fascinating" (228). Here, the narrator Scout reflects that Maycomb society would condemn her interaction with Raymond because of his biracial children, but that she could not perform that same level of racial innocence. In Scout's interactions with Dolphous Raymond, Lee juxtaposes narrator Scout with protagonist Scout. While protagonist Scout quotes Atticus and says that cheating a colored man is the worst thing a white individual can do (229), narrator Scout expresses a latent form of racial superiority through suggesting Raymond's sin is based on his having fathered biracial children (228). Scout over-exaggerates his supposed transgression to illustrate the faulty racial logic in the assumption that what makes Dolphous Raymond sinful are his biracial children. Instead, Scout's tongue-in-cheek comment suggests the opposite, that sin is not tied to race.
Furthermore, Raymond responds to protagonist Scout's repetition of Atticus's assertion with a denial and a pause: "I don't reckon it's--" (229). Raymond's response opens the door to interrogate Scout's, and by extension Atticus's, racial innocence. Here, Raymond's pause implicitly counters Scout and Atticus's racial superiority. Though a pause does not deny, it also does not affirm, and thus offers the first contradiction of Atticus's moral code. By contradicting Atticus's notion of "the worst," a notion based on the inherently superior position of his race in comparison to that of others, Raymond challenges Atticus's assertion and signals his racial innocence. Though protagonist Scout continues to enact racial innocence, the narrator's incredulity at white Maycomb society's rejection of Raymond and affirmation of Atticus shows how Scout's childhood defined and was defined by race: "I came to the conclusion that people were just peculiar, I withdrew from them, and never thought about them until I was forced to" (279). In this instance, Lee complicates reading Scout's narrative as the "mobilize[d] idea of culture" that popular culture assumes (Real South 59). While Scout as protagonist does engage in reproducing a racial innocence for the reader, the narrator's comments here signal a deeper problem with which the novel engages: using Scout's narrative to define childhood in the national imaginary. The narrator's desire to withdraw emphasizes Scout's sense of disconnection from her community and the racial logic that sustains it. Furthermore, Scout's conscious withdrawal points to the potential for nostalgia to unmask southern exceptionalism even while supporting it: "Reflective nostalgia is a form of deep mourning that performs a labor of grief both through pondering pain and through play that points to the future" (Boym 55). Through consideration of "peculiar" people, Scout as narrator performs the "deep mourning" that withdrawal from her community necessitates. Scout's "[coming] to [a] conclusion" and her decision to forget until "forced" are conscious efforts, or "labor[s] of grief," wrought at the expense of "pondering" the racial logic of white supremacy which Maycomb's southern exceptionalism supports. In the narrator's ironic aside, Scout testifies to the "peculiar" aspect of nostalgia that would create collective memory through reinhabiting the spatialized time of Scout's childhood. Equally valid, the narrator's withdrawal could also signify a removal from readers who would use the narrative as a source of such nostalgic interaction. In Watchman, Lee addresses the problems of exceptionalism and cultural reproduction that nostalgia produces by using Jean Louise's negotiations of her own racialized adolescence.
Re-Configuring Adolescence(ts) in Watchman
Whereas Scout and Mockingbird act as a controlling idea of southern racial and adolescent identity (even as Lee subverts that notion), Watchman goes further by bringing Jean Louise into a reckoning with her "presumed" racial innocence and that of her community. The YL first proposes viewing adolescence as a socially situated category rather than a monolithic identity, acknowledging that adolescence does not look the same everywhere or for everyone. Focusing on Jean Louise through this aspect of the YL problematizes many of the figured worlds established in Mockingbird and solidified in Watchman. For example, Watchman opens with Jean Louise's journey to Maycomb from New York. The closer she gets to Maycomb, the more Jean Louise assumes a childlike persona. She changes her clothes to reflect her habits as a child (4); she revisits Finch landing, the historic site of her adolescence and that of her father (76); and she struggles to picture Atticus as other than the image she recalls from her adolescence (17). Jean Louise even describes her memories of Maycomb as "always summer" and the physical return to her home as a place where time "stopped, shifted, and went lazily in reverse" (54). In other words, for Jean Louise, returning to Maycomb is like moving backward in time to childhood. Jean Louise's Maycomb nostalgically defies time and space.
Watchman is peppered with flashbacks to childhood games and antics that seem to absorb Jean Louise's imagination and attention such that she has to be "roused" or awoken from her recollections (70). For instance, Jean Louise's nostalgic desire to return to her adolescence is so strong that Henry, her date, asks her: "Going Southern on us? Want me to do a Gerald O'Hara?" (74). Though Henry's comment appears as jest, here Lee presents the reader with a clear parallel between Jean Louise's fantasies of her childhood and fantasies of Tara in the national imaginary, demonstrating how nostalgia "mobilizes an idea of culture" (Romine, Real South 59). Interestingly, Jean Louise's desire to preserve the South occurs through re-inhabiting the locations of her memories. She cannot return to the South without simultaneously returning to a self-imposed state of adolescence.
Through her memories and mannerisms, Jean Louise attempts to preserve the South and her relationships to her community, adhering to Maycomb's expectations of adolescence. When her Aunt Alexandra criticizes Jean Louise's behavior, it is because Jean Louise does not fit the social expectations of the new people in Maycomb. Instead, Aunt Alexandra views Jean Louise as one of the "young people" who were "the same in every generation" (36). Here, Aunt Alexandra imposes a social expectation that differentiates adolescence from adulthood. Operating from an adult-normative perspective, Aunt Alexandra expects Jean Louise to behave as an adult. When Jean Louise rejects her aunt's directive, she behaves like an adolescent. Her aunt then realizes, "Now she needed bringing up to the line and bringing up sharply, before it was too late" (36). The fact that this line is of Aunt Alexandra's own making escapes her notice. When Jean Louise walks that line, she is labeled as an adult; when she does not, she is disparaged as an adolescent.
Yet, even as Jean Louise rejects this classification of identity imposed on her by her aunt, she adheres to her own conception of raced and gendered adolescence. For example, when Jean Louise confronts Henry about his involvement in the Maycomb Citizens' Council and his refusal to take a stand against racist ideology, he says, "So you can parade around town in your dungarees with your shirttail out and barefooted if you want to. Maycomb says, 'That's the Finch in her, that's just Her Way.' Maycomb grins and goes about its business: old Scout Finch never changes" (231). Henry points out that while he "must conform to certain demands of the community," especially because he comes from "trash" (230, 232), Jean Louise can defy society's expectations of adulthood or adolescence because her childhood identity as a Finch serves as a validation to Maycomb of her southern identity and her current identity. In writing off her defiance as "the Finch in her," Maycomb affirms Jean Louise's place within its own social structure of white normativity and southern womanhood and signals the double standard allowing her the leeway that Henry identifies. Even though Scout Finch is depicted as a tomboy, her tomboyishness, or "Her Way," is still rendered in feminine terms. Jean Louise, as "old Scout Finch," does not have to change "Her Way" because her childhood defiance of the conventions typical of southern white women is the expectation of Maycomb society and the exception to the rule: her childhood becomes society's, even the reader's, expectations for her adolescence and her adulthood. The fact that the "Way" of "the Finch in her" is gendered female corresponds with Bernstein's argument that racial innocence is typically validated through play objects of young white girls.
Furthermore, Jean Louise comes to recognize her childhood as based on white normative expectations and interactions. Though Lee asserts that Jean Louise was "born color blind" (122), her interactions with Calpurnia reveal the contrary. Jean Louise frequently notes the changes between Cal's diction when directed at white Maycomb or black Maycomb. She even recognizes when Cal begins to address her as she does other members of white Maycomb or when Cal addresses her as "Miss Scout" rather than Scout (139). Instead of questioning why Calpurnia uses company manners with her, Jean Louise shrugs it off as "getting old" (139). But when Jean Louise visits Calpurnia's home and is distraught at Calpurnia's treatment of her as a part of white Maycomb (158-60), "Calpurnia repudiates Jean Louise's gambit to continue performing childhood racial innocence, and pointedly marks her whiteness" (Henninger 617). Calpurnia's response forces Jean Louise to confront the white-normative expectations tied to her constructed childhood. Jean Louise's reflects, "It was not always like this.... People used to trust each other for some reason, I've forgotten why" (161), remaining in the past tense, in her childhood recollections, not accounting for the experiences of another. What Jean Louise cannot remember, or refuses to remember, is that that "trust" was itself rooted in white superiority and adherence to the principles of southern exceptionalism. Jean Louise could afford to be trusting as a child and again as an adolescent, whereas Calpurnia could not operate with the same trust or expectations because, in Maycomb, both are coded as white. For this reason, not only does Calpurnia's rejection obstruct Jean Louise's childhood racial innocence, but it also obstructs Jean Louise's ability to maintain her constructed adolescence.
In this way, Jean Louise takes her childhood and applies it as a monolithic experience for that of others in the community, as seen in her inability to view Henry's need to conform or Cal's rejection of her. She applies her childhood as the model for all childhoods in the South, and as Petrone et al. point out, her social projection has "material consequences." Thus, when Jean Louise recognizes the racial innocence of her family and her community, she feels a "sharp apartness, a separation" from both (154). The consequence of her construct for adolescence is that Jean Louise must sever her connection to "old Scout Finch" and reorient her understanding of adolescence from a perspective other than her childhood or her father's adulthood. Jean Louise must stop herself from allowing Scout Finch to be the master narrative for her identity or her childhood.
However, applying the YL to Watchman also complicates Jean Louise's break from Atticus and from Maycomb. As Jean Louise comes to terms with her community, her childhood, and her family, she learns to agree to disagree with her father. Jean Louise idolizes her father as her moral compass and uses him to validate her exceptionalist perspective of her community and her childhood (265). Even Uncle Jack reinforces this viewpoint when he attempts to explain Atticus's logic and racism as "incidental" to the South's predicament (201). Atticus tells Jean Louise, "I've killed you, Scout. I had to," and eventually, Uncle Jack explains to Jean Louise that Atticus had to "kill" her vision of herself as a perpetual adolescent dependent upon her father just as she had to "kill" the part of her conscience that was bound to her father (252, 265).
As the YL suggests, adolescence(ts) is often used as a metaphor in order to justify ideology. While Atticus's killing of Jean Louise's (and possibly the reader's) "conscience-latching" allows Jean Louise to break from a construction of adolescence that is dependent upon Atticus and her community, this break does not occur on her own terms. Instead, Atticus and Uncle Jack, as the adults, must set the terms, as Jean Louise herself notices in her discussion with Uncle Jack (265). (18) If Jean Louise's adolescence figures metaphorically, then her break is not a rejection of the expectations and conventions of adulthood. Rather, her break is the natural, long-awaited consequence that the adults in her life expect (265). The YL problematizes Jean Louise's break from adolescence because it reveals that her break from adults was encouraged and enabled by adults. Operating from adult-normativity, Jean Louise leaves one type of adolescence only to enter an adult-normative type of adolescence. As Petrone et al. demonstrate, "a YL draws attention to the idea of adulthood as the norm in relation to which adolescence is an othered, inferior category" (512). Though I do not propose that entering adulthood is wrong, I highlight this dilemma because it perpetuates an assumption that adolescence must be metaphorically "killed" in order to reach adulthood. This problematic line of reasoning presumes that maturity is accessible only to adults (and not adolescents) and is obtained only through "ending" adolescence (thereby reaching adulthood).
Although the YL complicates Jean Louise's notion of herself and her relationships to her father, family, and community, applying the YL to Watchman accentuates the ways that Mockingbird, Scout, and Jean Louise serve as controlling narratives of childhood and adolescence(ts). In Watchman especially, Jean Louise attempts to use her adolescence to justify her perspective and relationship to the South. Whereas Jean Louise's return to and departure from childhood and adolescence is problematic for the reasons listed above, Watchman does attempt to confront the reader's own response to Mockingbird as the cultural ideal for adolescence and southern identity. As Henninger points out, Watchman is important because "Jean Louise and Lee recognize [racial innocence] as a tragic and untenable state, with implications not only for Jean Louise's maturity, but also, more importantly, for perpetuating systematic racism in the South and the nation," but that Lee offers no "effective way forward from this realization" (620). By attempting to defamiliarize Mockingbird through Jean Louise's progression and growth in Watchman, Lee unintentionally sustains a nostalgic desire for Mockingbird within the national imaginary that aligns with Romine's theory of cultural reproduction. Organized around nostalgic loss, Mockingbird and Watchman, like Tara, "mobilize an idea" of the South and of adolescence(ts) (Romine, Real South 59).
Crossing Over from YAL to SLS
Mockingbird and Watchman unveil the precarious mechanisms possible within nostalgia to "confuse the actual home and the imaginary one" and "create a phantom homeland, for the sake of which one is ready to die or kill" (Boym xvi). When this nostalgic and exceptionalist form of southern identity and adolescence takes root, it "breeds monsters" of white and adult normativity within the national imaginary (xvi). Investments in southern exceptionalism and racialized conceptions of adolescence work together to lay the foundation of the "phantom homeland" Scout's nostalgic impulse proffers readers: a Maycombian "figured world" blind to its own "monsters." Nostalgia that does not defamiliarize and mourn, nostalgia that is not reflective of its own desires, "breeds monsters" of racism and exceptionalist narratives within its enactors. When readers deny the reflective aspect of nostalgia, they fail to bring truth to bear on fiction and have a "direct impact on the realities of the future" (xvi).
Although Henninger's argument does interrogate the ways that adolescence(ts) is portrayed in Mockingbird and Watchman, reading Henninger's work alongside Romine's theory of cultural reproduction, Boym's theory of nostalgia, and Petrone et. al's theory of the YL allows us to see how a text like Mockingbird becomes a type of cultural reproduction for YAL texts and American identities of adolescence(ts) in general. On the one hand, this allows readers to interrogate YAL as it reproduces a narrative of racial innocence, white normativity, or southern exceptionalism. Though more texts respond to white normativity, fewer YAL texts push back on the South as a cultural reproduction in itself. On the other hand, understanding how Mockingbird and Watchman reproduce narratives of southern adolescent identities opens the door for YAL to answer such productions by offering counternarratives that oppose static or Maycombian renditions of the South. (19) Although YAL continues to subvert Mockingbird's controlling narrative about what is means to be southern and what it means to be adolescent, it does not nullify Levander's claim that the child has been historically figured to racialize individuals and the nation. As such, YAL may continue to subvert these figured worlds, but it has not fully eradicated them. While YAL does not, as a whole, undertake a project of racial reconciliation, when placed alongside Mockingbird, it does provide an opportunity to expand an adolescent's appreciation of racialized normativity and identity within culture and society.
University of Arkansas (M.A. 2017)
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(1) For an overview of YAL's development and significance, see Talley; Cart, "Young Adult Literature."
(2) The study was careful to delineate between YAL purchased for personal enjoyment as opposed to YAL purchased on behalf of another individual, such as a child, teen, or other family member.
(3) Nowell's 2015 Nielsen Book research study presented this number as eighty percent for adult consumers of YAL (slide 24).
(4) YALSA (Young Adult Library Association and Services) categorizes YAL's intended audience between twelve and eighteen years old. See "YALSA's Book Awards & Booklists." For YALSA's position on the relevance of YAL, see Cart, "The Value of Young Adult Literature."
(5) In this case, works such as Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye, and Huckleberry Finn become re-categorized as literature for adolescents.
(6) While Fiedler connects Huckleberry Finn with American literature's boyish escape from and fear of women and sexuality, Roberta Seelinger Trites connects Mark Twain's and Louisa May Alcott's works with themes of social reform and growth that are integral to much of YAL, re-categorizing them as part of YAL's entwicklungsroman tradition of growth and change.
(7) See Mendenhall 13-14; Henninger.
(8) For an overview of literary criticism and legal analysis of Mockingbird, see Johnson, Threatening Boundaries, Noble; Sarat and Umphrey; and Meyer. On race, gender and sexuality, see Jay. On historical relevance and ideology, see Chura. For pedagogy of Mockingbird, see Johnson, Understandinglo Kill a Mockingbird.
(9) This article uses adolescence(ts) to refer to the intersection between the social category of age (adolescence) with the individual experience of participants in that identity category (adolescents).
(10) Though Petrone et al. acknowledge the relevance of developmental biology and psychology for adolescence in general, the YL argues against placing monolithic social expectations, assumptions, or significations upon adolescence(ts) (509).
(11) For a discussion by teens about activism and countering expectations of adolescence(ts), see Harris and Harris.
(12) Using Robin Bernstein's concept of racial innocence, which proposes that childhood innocence is coded white with the purpose of excluding non-white individuals, Henninger demonstrates how Scout and her brother Jem enact a form of childhood innocence about racism and social hierarchies that, in turn, produces racial memory while allowing its enactors (both characters and Mockingbird's readers) to transcend it through purposeful erasure of it (Bernstein 8; Henninger 605).
(13) In his earlier work, The Narrative Forms of Southern Community, Romine argues that a signifying image or icon is necessary for a community to use to organize and validate its cultural identity (7-8). For the South, Tara acts as that icon and that community's "reterritorialized desire," or the result of placing desire on a familiar object and then defamiliarizing that object just enough so that it produces nostalgic longing (Real South 42). In this way, Tara operates as a constructed idea of the South that is reproduced as the controlling idea of the South.
(14) Svetlana Boym points out that nostalgia attempts to recover lost objects of desire by "revisit[ing] time like space" in an effort to transcend "the irreversibility of time that plagues the human condition" (xv).
(15) While both novels refer to the protagonist as Scout and Jean Louise, for the sake of clarity, I use Scout in reference to her character in Mockingbird and Jean Louise in reference to her character in Watchman. On that note, it is important to mention that Scout's character is revealed in two ways: as the protagonist of the narrative and as the omniscient narrator who reflects on her past. Jean Louise repeats this narrative form in Watchman, which can be used to provide a possible expansion on Scout's character and Mockingbird in general. I read and treat Watchman as a companion text rather than a sequel because this allows for flexibility in character development as well as accounting for plot inconsistencies between the two narratives. As such, I first discuss encounters with Scout the subject and Scout the narrator in Mockingbird before turning my attention to Jean Louise's moments of memory and flashback in Watchman.
(16) In addition, the fact that the snowman became a "Mr. Avery," or socially recognized as a man, indicates further assumptions about identity that underlie Jem and Scout's play in this scene.
(17) For more on how Mockingbird "others" Dolphous Raymond, see Best 544, 550-51.
(18) It is worth noting that Jean Louise's breaking point occurs only after Uncle Jack strikes her in order to "attract" her attention and stem the flow of her indignation (260). While Uncle Jack speaks of a figurative conscience "killing," in this scene, he literally attempts to swat the adolescent "passion" and "fight" out of her body (260-61). Jean Louise remarks that she feels "funny" and displaced between two temporalities: Uncle Jack's house and New York (262). Ironically, Jean Louise's displacement primes the pump for Uncle Jack to place her into adulthood.
(19) On how a contemporary YAL text presents and interrogates static images of the South, see Cha.
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|Title Annotation:||To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman|
|Publication:||The Mississippi Quarterly|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2017|
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