To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee
(Click the character infographic to download.)
Miss Maudie is part of the world where "fragrant ladies rocked slowly, fanned gently, and drank cool water" (24.53), but this rose never lets others forget her thorns. Unlike Miss Stephanie and Mrs. Dubose, however, Miss Maudie uses her sharp tongue to counter meanness rather than to perpetrate it. When Miss Stephanie tries to spread tales of Boo's fearsomeness, Miss Maudie doesn't just refuse to listen, or even just smile and nod and forget.
"Stephanie Crawford even told me once she woke up in the middle of the night and found him looking in the window at her. I said what did you do, Stephanie, move over in the bed and make room for him? That shut her up a while." (5.48)
Miss Maudie's joke embarrasses Miss Stephanie into holding her tongue, but perhaps it's effective because it plays off the truth: Miss Stephanie wants to know everyone's intimate secrets, just as if she were sleeping with them.
Jem and Scout count Miss Maudie as a friend because, unlike most adults, she treats them with respect. Just like Atticus, who she says is "the same in his house as he is on the public streets" (5.54), Miss Maudie acts the same to children as she does to adults: "She had never told on us, had never played cat-and-mouse with us, she was not at all interested in our private lives" (5.36). While Miss Stephanie is always poking and prying, especially at Scout, and Mrs. Merriweather can't even speak to children in the same tone of voice she uses for grown-ups, Miss Maudie sees the kids as slightly-less-experienced adults, and treats them like that.
And Miss Maudie's equal-opportunity respect extends to African-Americans, too. When Aunt Alexandra is depressed and bitter over the townspeople's leaving Atticus to do the right thing all by his lonesome, Miss Maudie speaks up for the small group of like-minded people in Maycomb.
"The handful of people in this town who say that fair play is not marked White Only; the handful of people who say a fair trial is for everybody, not just us; the handful of people with enough humility to think, when they look at a Negro, there but for the Lord's kindness am I." (24.81)
Well, okay, it's not 100%—seriously, she's thanking God for not being born black—but it's a start. Like Atticus's constant advice to Scout to put herself in the other person's shoes, Miss Maudie's respect for others is based on sympathy. Unlike Atticus, she can't be a lawyer or face down a lynch mob (or maybe she could), but her influence is still potent despite being exercised in tea parties rather than courtrooms. And she gives Scout an example of how being a lady doesn't necessarily mean having your selfhood squished—or starched—out of you.