Harriet M. Welsch, Scout Finch, and How to Be a Good Bad American Girl : The New Yorker
… millions of women and girls, myself included, have long considered Scout Finch and Harriet M. Welsch two of the most important American examples of enlightened, audacious girlhood. In fact, I’ve long suspected that “Harriet the Spy” was heavily influenced by “Mockingbird.”
The story of a six-year-old girl observing the oppressive racial politics of the fictional Maycomb, Alabama, in the nineteen-thirties may not seem to much resemble that of a sophisticated, eleven-year-old Upper East Sider taking notes on the petty social mores of her peers in the nineteen-sixties. But the books share thematic concerns—concepts of truth, justice, and self-actualization—as well as a number of details. Both are centered on grade-school tomboys who love denim and sensible shoes. Like Scout, Harriet has an absent—in her case, uninvolved—mother; comes from an economically privileged family; and is contemptuous of frailty and friendly with filth. Both are rough-and-tumble, foulmouthed, mostly male-identified girls who are fascinated by the people in their neighborhood, and both butt up against expectations of their gender—“I’ll be damned if I go to dancing school!” Harriet bellows at one point. And each book argues for authentic expression in favor of fealty to convention.
I really appreciate this article. I’ve often expressed my love for To Kill a Mockingbird on here, but Harriet the Spy holds a place close to my heart, as well. In fact, I’d say that, of the two, Harriet the Spy played a more important role in my life. It was the first “real” book that I read on my own as a child and I still remember tearing through it on an eleven hour flight from Chicago to Istanbul. I was already quite observational at that age so reading about a young girl who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind and jot everything down was just what I needed. In fact, I started keeping composition notebooks after returning from that trip (even if the obsessive writing didn’t come until a little later.) So, I appreciated reading about the two side by side. I’d never thought of their similarities, but they are indeed striking.