Date Awarded


Document Type

Dissertation -- Access Restricted On-Campus Only

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Studies


Elizabeth Barnes


From Jo March to Scout Finch, the American tomboy figure has become an icon of modern girlhood and a symbol of female empowerment. My dissertation traces the development of the tomboy figure from its origins in nineteenth-century sentimental novels to Harper Lee's classic Civil Rights novel, to Kill a Mockingbird (1960). to the informed reader, it may seem rather paradoxical that nineteenth-century sentimental culture produced the first recognizable tomboy figures, as this era is typically remembered for its indoctrination of conventional femininity. My project is the first to interrogate this apparent paradox and, in so doing, yields important insights into the tomboy figure's role as a social critic in the twentieth century. as tomboys express and struggle with issues of sympathy, invoking a key convention of sentimental fiction, they not only unmask the cultural performance of femininity and heterosexuality but also subvert racial and class hierarchies. By tracing the development of the tomboy narrative over time and through the retrospective lens of sentimentalism, my dissertation yields new insights into the origins of the tomboy figure, as well as the persistence of sentimental ideologies into the twentieth century and beyond.;My project centers upon five women authors: E.D.E.N. Southworth, Louisa May Alcott, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Carson McCullers and Harper Lee. Chapter 1 examines Cap Black, the cross-dressing "newsgirl" protagonist of Southworth's popular sentimental novel, The Hidden Hand (1859); more specifically, this chapter investigates the ties between Cap's gender subversion, urban street life, and non-traditional familial experiences. Chapter 2 analyzes Jo March of Alcott's Little Women (1868) in relation to discourses of poverty, sympathy, and race in the Civil War era. Chapter 3 focuses on Laura Ingalls's struggles with sympathy amid the geographical, cultural and historical "landscapes" of the prairie in Wilder's Little House series, published during the Depression era. Chapters 4 and 5 consider Southern tomboys, Carson McCullers's Frankie Addams and Harper Lee's Scout Finch, who challenge heteronormativity, racial violence and segregationist politics in the twentieth-century South, particularly as they forge sympathetic alliances with other marginalized figures.



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