This thesis deals with three Southern novels: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers and Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote. All were written in the 1940s and 50s, and all feature a gender nonconformist child protagonist.
My primary aim is to examine how these fundamentally queer characters tackle the problem of coming of age in a culture in which gender norms are very clearly defined and regulated. The dilemma is this: should one give in to society’s demands in order to fit in, or instead choose to be an outsider? My argument is that in these novels, rebelling outright and refusing to be part of the community is presented as futile. If, however, one is seen to be complying with gender norms, one has the opportunity to undermine and satirize them, while at the same time being accepted as part of the mainstream. For these protagonists, I therefore argue that coming of age becomes synonymous with learning to ‘play the game’ in terms of gender. Accordingly, I attempt to show how those who completely reject conformity are depicted as unable to move beyond adolescence. With this analysis, I hope to show how acts of gender conformity in these novels can be seen not only as acts of capitulation, but also as conscious strategies of subversion and subterfuge. As a result, characters who have previously often been dismissed as passive or defeated can instead be read as flexible and resourceful.