The novel of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is set in the heart of Maycomb County, Alabama in the late 1930’s, at the end of the world economic depression. As is seen in the novel, many of white people in Maycomb have joined pressure groups to try and ensure white supremacy over the black community. Maycomb is described by Harper Lee as if it was a character; it is described as being old, worn out, unkept, slow-moving, insular, poor and conservative, but it is also described with hope ‘vague optimism’ . This influences the behaviour of the inhabitants as the people of the town take on these characteristics as is seen in the novel.
Many of the citizens in Maycomb show these characteristics alter their behaviour in different ways. Some like Mrs. Dubose show it in their attitude and physical appearance, as she has lived in Maycomb all of her life and she is old, worn out and slow moving. Others show these characteristics with there mental attitude. Examples of this is Atticus and the case of Tom Robinson, by the end of the trial Atticus is mentally worn-out and tired but he still uses hope and at the trial he hopes that they will believe him by saying ‘in the name of God, do your duty’.
Atticus still keeps hope and so does Mrs. Dubose even when she is dying. The novel itself is about one man, Atticus Finch who is trying to jolt his society out of its isolationist mentality and towards recognising that black people are in fact humans, and deserve equality and the same human rights as whites. ‘This case, Tom Robinsons case goes to the essence of a man’s conscience – Scout, I couldn’t go to church and worship God if I didn’t try to help that man’ However, he encounters much racial hatred from his friends and the county when he attempts to defend Tom Robinson.
Harper Lee shows us that Maycomb is entrenched in its own way of life. This way of life is based on the idea of white supremacy and that the whites are the dominant race. The Negro community is just a mere culture challenging their way of life, which needs to be put in their place, especially the blacks. An example of this is when the mob gathers outside the county jail to take Tom Robinson before the trial has begun. They try to carry out an unjustified murder, which would have happened if Atticus wasn’t there. ‘The Ku Klux’s gone; said Atticus It’ll never come back’.
The Ku Klux tried to carry out an unjustified murder of Tom Robinson as it could be used to intimidate the other black people in the community so that they didn’t do anything like Tom did and they also need to stay at the bottom of society. The white community have their own idea of what justice should be, and they show this in the case of Tom Robinson, racial hatred and prejudice play a main part in the verdict of his trial. Maycomb’s geographical position and history has shaped its inhabitants to being narrow and self-minded.
These characteristics are later shown in the novel as Maycomb County is told ‘it had nothing to fear but fear itself’ which proves to be true as Maycomb divides over Tom Robinson’s case. Therefore, this shows that not all people in Maycomb had the same views on race. These views are frowned upon by Maycomb’s racist culture; we also see that there is a lot of racial hatred lingering in their society. The Ku Klux Klan and the mob of Maycomb are two groups of people in Maycomb that keep the racial tension and hatred. This makes the job of getting rid of the prejudice much harder.
The people of Maycomb don’t allow change and difference of opinion in their society. They appear to be scared of people threatening their culture and way of life. This is shown when the non-prejudicial people in Maycomb to express their opinion and speak out against prejudice and inequality. People like this are the Finches, Miss Maudie, Dolphus Raymond and Mr Underwood. Each family in Maycomb has their own ‘brand’ or ‘label’, they are usually not regarded as being individual people, and instead they are branded ‘That’s a Ewell’.
Aunt Alexandra is particularly prone to this sort of prejudice as she judges people by their family, not as an individual. ‘Your aunt asked me to try and impress upon you and Jean Louise that you’re not from the run-of-the-mill people, that you are the product of several generations gentle breeding’. The main flaw that has formed the community is its prejudice, as it is directed towards groups of individuals in Maycomb County. Prejudice is linked to fear, superstition and injustice.
When Scout meets Mr. Dolphus Raymond during the trial she becomes aware that he is a victim of prejudice and that he has become an outcast. His children are also victims of prejudice as they are of mixed race and so do not fit in with the blacks or whites. As a result they live in the isolated out-skirts of Maycomb far away from anyone. Harper Lee shows us that Maycomb was a typical of a small town in the period of 1930/40. The isolationist mentality is what dominates the county as is shown by the events surrounding Tom Robinson’s trial.
The views of the county are split over this case and this is where Harper Lee shows us the minorities of the county and the exceptions to the isolationistic view. ‘I hope and pray that I can get Jem and Scout through this without bitterness, and most of all, without catching Maycomb’s unusual disease’. The disease that Atticus is talking about is the spreading of the idea that Negro’s are inferior and shouldn’t have the respect of white people. ‘I hope Scout and Jem come to me for answers instead of listening to the town. ‘
Atticus is an example of the few exceptions to the isolationist mentality that has engulfed the community. Harper Lee shows us that many of the people in Maycomb that support the blacks’ cause are afraid to show the true reasons why they supported blacks. Dolphus Raymond is a prime example of this as he is married to a black woman and many of the people of Maycomb feel that he is evil. Scout and Dill both show this when they see Dolphus outside the court house. Dolphus Raymond puts on a ‘front’ every time that he goes into town to give people a reason why he behaves the way he does. I try to give ’em a reason, you see.
It helps folk if they can latch on to a reason. When I come to town, which is seldom, if I weave a little drink out of this sack, folk can say Dolphus Raymond is in the clutches of his whiskey, that’s why he won’t change his ways. He can’t help himself that’s why he lives the way he does’. Though isolationist mentality is dominating Maycomb life, Heck Tate and Mr. Underwood are two primary characters that believed that the black people in their society did deserve better. These people are seen as exceptions along with Atticus and Dolphus.
Attitudes towards these people varied a little, however the main attitude was that they were fooling themselves and that blacks were worth nothing. There are many parts in the novel that suggest this. One example is when Atticus is outside the county jail and he is speaking to the mob and they are trying to persuade Atticus that it is better if they take Tom as Atticus is wrong and that he is worth nothing. Many people had decided that Atticus and his family were ‘nigger lovers’ and that they were taking the side of the blacks over the whites.
The two main examples of this is when Francis calls Atticus ‘nigger lovers’ also, when Mr Ewell finds out that Atticus is taking Tom’s side. The Ewells were the main people that showed prejudice along with the mob that tried to execute Tom Robinson before the trial. The attitudes to the Negro in To Kill a Mockingbird does not change throughout the Novel. We learn in Chapter 25 that even after the death of Tom Robinson the county still keeps the same opinion and they feel that it was typical of a “nigger” to try and escape. By Harper Lee saying this through Jem as the narrator in the novel, she is trying to show how hard peoples opinions were.
That even after the death of a Negro that didn’t deserve to die people still kept to their racist and judgemental decisions thus, showing that people were not prepared to change their views with time. In chapter 10 we learn of another character that shares the unbiased view, this is Miss Maudie. “Atticus said to Jem one day, ‘I’d rather you shoot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird. ‘ ‘Your father’s right,’ Miss Maudie said.
Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up peoples gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. ‘ Readers can now begin to realize is that Atticus and Miss. Maudie are very much alike. Thus, showing that they both share the same views as Maycomb is particularly prone to many of the flaws associated with small town culture, one in particular is gossip. Most people in Maycomb have live there for generations and many of their ideas haven’t changed. As Maycomb is an isolated town is extremely susceptible to gossip.
Aunt Alexandra and her missionary society along with Miss Stephanie Crawford are the main perpetrators of gossip. Dill is the most influenced by Miss Stephanie Crawford as we see that he is always quoting ‘Miss Stephanie said’. Harper Lee shows us that the behaviour of the characters in To Kill a Mockingbird is influenced by what they believed and did. The gossip and prejudice gives people the opportunity to use scapegoats; Tom Robinson was the scapegoat for Myella’s crime of kissing a black man and this led to the whole town showing different behaviour.
The behaviour of the characters is influenced by whether they believed in being non-prejudicial or being prejudicial, the attitude of people changed quite rapidly and it became quite easy to tell the different of categories of people as Jem describes. Every action in To Kill a Mockingbird has an effect. For example, Atticus chose to take on the case to defend the Tom Robinson as he believed that he was innocent and that it was and not to do anything and allow Tom Robinson to be trialled unfairly. The main aspect was the verdict and this therefore has the effect that Tom Robinson took his own life.
This shows that there were many knock on effects. Thus, showing us that everything in the novel happened for a reason. Harper Lee shows that Maycomb hasn’t changed for many years. Small town life has influenced the behaviour of its inhabitants through gossip and the fear of change. The fear of change has led people to become set in their ways and therefore, they will do anything to keep their society the same. Gossip has enabled myths, fears, untruths and prejudices to spread throughout the town.
These stories shape people’s attitudes towards each other and towards the decisions that they make on subjects such as discrimination. A prime example of this is the children. They become wiser as they grow up; thus showing that gossip has influenced their decisions. They learn that not everything is true and people may want to be different from the society and not castled out, which is what’s suggested in the novel. ‘I think that I’m beginning to understand why Boo Radley’s stayed shut up in that house all this time…. It’s because he wants to stay inside. ‘