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Roles in the Odyssey and to Kill a Mockingbird

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Women in literature are usually portrayed as nurturing members of society. Typically, female characters are shown as housewives, taking care of the children and the home, but the female characters in The Odyssey are greatly different. Female characters in To Kill a Mockingbird are seen in the background, providing care for the children, cooking and preparing meals, cleaning the house, and very rarely does one see them working outside the home. However, in The Odyssey, we see women who are much stronger in personality and their role in society. This paper is going to reveal how the female roles in The Odyssey and To Kill a Mockingbird differ.

There is one name that stands out the most in To Kill a Mockingbird, and that name is Scout. Scout, whose given name is Jean Louise Finch, is a girl who does not act like a young lady of the times is expected to behave. Instead, she is always playing with boys, mostly her older brother, Jem, and their friend, Dill. Their amusements included make-believe games and rolling each other inside an old tire. “I ran to the backyard and pulled an old car tire from under the house. I slapped it up to the front yard. ‘I’m first,’ I said. ” (Lee, 37) Scout always dressed in overalls and jeans, never dresses, further symbolizing her desire to be a tomboy.

Other girls would wear dresses and be more feminine, but Scout wanted no part of that. Scout was an eager learner, something not usually instilled in young girls of the time, as evidenced in an exchange between Scout and her teacher, Miss Caroline: I suppose she chose me because she knew my name; as I read the alphabet a faint line appeared between her eyebrows, and after making me read most of My First Reader and the stock-market quotations from The Mobile Register aloud, she discovered that I was literate and looked at me with more than faint distaste. (Lee, 17)

In contrast, the perfect example of a proper southern lady of the times is Scout’s Aunt Alexandra. Aunt Alexandra was the personification of a proper lady of the south. She would cook and prepare the meals. She kept the house, cared for her family, and always dressed like a proper lady. Alexandra frowned at Scout’s tomboyish ways and her jeans and overalls. Alexandra wore proper dresses and was considered “high society”, or what passed for it, in Maycomb County. Aunt Alexandra felt that Scout’s father, Atticus, was too indulgent of her by not making Scout conform to the rules of polite society.

There was a time when Aunt Alexandra moved in with Scout’s family to help take care of the children while Atticus finch was involved in a big trial. During this time, she did her best to turn Scout into a “girl”, by making her clean up, put on a dress and attend an afternoon tea. “Aunt Alexandra had told me to join them for refreshments… I was wearing my pink Sunday dress, shoes, and a petticoat… ” (Lee,228) Her efforts were met with resistance from Scout and the results were often less than what Aunt Alexandra hoped for.

Miss Maudie, speaking to Scout: “You’re mighty dressed up, Miss Jean Louise,” she said. Where are your britches today? ” “Under my dress. ” I hadn’t meant to be funny, but the ladies laughed. ‘ (Lee, 229) Although Aunt Alexandra was a dominant force, she always knew her place, and her role in life was to be nurturing, the caregiver. This story imparts to the reader that men were the more important gender in society. For example, the story largely centers around a criminal trial that has the whole county on edge. The jury is made up entirely of men.

When the African-American defendant is going to testify, the women and children are cleared from the courtroom. During the trial, the women are seated in the back of the courtroom and the balconies, while the men fill the prime seating areas. Basically, To Kill a Mockingbird’s central characters are almost entirely male, with the exception of Scout. The other female characters were just background, or supporting, characters. In this way, women have been largely represented throughout literature as being satisfied with a minor position in society.

We find a strikingly different picture of women in The Odyssey. Women in ancient Greece were not considered equal to men. They were not allowed to take part in worldly matters and remained in the background. However, Homer gives us female characters that are strong, powerful and wise. The female characters help move the story along and play important parts in the tale, often giving advice and taking care of the men. The women of The Odyssey, both mortal and Goddesses, are controlling, demanding beings. Penelope, Odysseus’ wife, was very clever and wise, even though she may seem timid at first glance.

Her husband was gone on his journey for 20 years, and she held off the men, or suitors, who wanted his fortune. She did this by saying she would marry when she completed her weaving. Each night, she would take apart all of the work she had done that day, only to start over in the morning. She was able to do this for a very long time, remaining faithful to her husband and her belief that he would one day return to her. “… she has been deluding the wits of a whole nation. Hopes for all, promises for every man by special messenger- and what she means is quite different.

” (Homer, 24 Rhoads) Athena, the Goddess of War and Wisdom, is a champion of Odysseus, and gives him much aid throughout his journey. She causes events throughout the entire story. In fact, it appears that her full role in the epic is solely for Odysseus. Even though she does interact with other characters, it is always for Odysseus’ benefit. She almost acts as an overseer, watching over Odysseus along with his wife, Penelope, and son, Telemachus, throughout the journey. You could compare this role to a plantation overseer, a role which would undeniably be filled by a man.

Athena participates actively and passively in Odysseus’ many trials. She helps him in Book V by calming the waters that Poseidon hurled against the ship in an attempt to destroy it. She later tells Odysseus of the suitors who are after his fortune, and encourages him in his battles with the suitors upon his return, but does not directly fight the suitors herself. Athena is first and foremost committed to getting Odysseus home to reclaim his family and fortune. She even keeps Penelope strong by bringing dreams that would convince Penelope her husband would return someday.

The women of The Odyssey are also outgoing and aggressive. They take charge of a situation and are not afraid to go after what they want. Take Calypso’s meeting of Odysseus, for example. Odysseus gets stranded on the island where Calypso lives after his ship is torn apart at sea and all of his crew is lost. Calypso is lonely, and falls in love with Odysseus. She was sneaky and used her charms to enchant Odysseus in the hope he would stay with her forever. She even offers him immortal life. But Odysseus remains true to his desire to return home, and after seven years, Calypso finally lets him go.

When she does, she gives him a raft, filled with food and wine, sturdy clothing and wind to push the raft. “She sent me from her island on a raft, which she provisioned with abundance of bread and wine. Moreover she gave me good stout clothing, and sent me a wind that blew both warm and fair. ” (Homer, Book VII) Although Calypso’s appearance in the tale is minor compared to Athena, she is portrayed as a strong and willful female who is capable of taking action, rather than a woman who feels submissive to men.

The female characters in To Kill a Mockingbird and The Odyssey are completely different in every way. The women of To Kill a Mockingbird are written as very traditional, submissive characters that blend in the background, allowing the men to take charge. This is the way women are largely portrayed throughout literature. The women in The Odyssey, by sharp contrast, are as dominant as the male characters. The women come out with a bang and never take a back seat to the men. Homer’s depiction of his female characters is unheard of for its time, and even today, those roles stand out as unique in literature.


Al-Ghafari, Iman. “Gender roles in literature and the media. ” Sept. 2007. Forward Magazine. Apr. 2008. Apr. 14, 2009. <http://www. fwmagazine. com/ content/gender-roles-literature-and-media> Homer. “Odyssey”. Translation by Samuel Butler 1900. The Literature Network. 2000. May 5, 2009. <http://www. online-literature. com/homer/odyssey/24/> Homer, . “Odyssey. ” Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition. Salem Press, 1998. eNotes. com. 2006. Apr. 18, 2009 <http://www. enotes. com/odyssey-salem/ odyssey>

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