Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” is set in the run-down, slow, shuffling, Southern town of Maycomb in the 1930’s. It is completely set in its ways, which have been tradition forever and therefore its residents have become “utterly predictable to each other” due to the fact that if you “scratch most folk in Maycomb they’re kin to us”. Outwardly, the community is divided into two sections: the white community and the black community. They live this way, because the white community see the blacks as ignorant and inferior because the blacks used to be slaves.
Therefore, the two races live in segregated areas of the town. The blacks are simple, hardworking folk, making a living by simple labour on the fields. They are god fearing and attend church regularly. Being uneducated, they repeat the hymns sung in the church, by rote. The white community is then divided into three. “There are four kindsa people” Most of the citizens of the county are simple, work hard, attend church regularly, indulge in idle gossip, and have a nose for prying.
The minority of the community, commonly known as ‘white trash’, including the Ewells are worse off than the blacks, despite being white. They are poor not because of circumstances but because of sheer laziness and lack of ambition. The children are filthy, have no manners, and even refuse to attend school. The Ewells are extremely racist. But the reasons that the Ewells, Bob in particular despise the blacks so much is due to their poor understanding and ignorance. They publicly show their racism for fear of being seen as inferior to the blacks.
Perhaps if the children did attend school, they would become better informed and would not behave in such ways, but as they do not, they just continue to pass on the circle of racism. It is this part of Maycomb that desperately needs to change, because its lifestyle and morals are stuck in the past, and in “To Kill A Mockingbird” it is up to a small part of the community, that believes that all men are made free and equal and aren’t racist, like Atticus Finch and Miss Maudie, to change their ways. The town of Maycomb is described in “To Kill a Mockingbird” as “an old town, but it was a tired old town”.
The town of Maycomb is situated in Alabama, one of the United States’ most Southern, and therefore, most racist states. There are never any new residents, as most people who chose to move during the 1930’s, decided to go to the Northern states, as they were more modern, and industrialised, and most importantly, less racist. Therefore, everybody in Maycomb knows each other, and all of each other’s business, and so, indulges in gossiping idly about them. The symbol of the Courthouse is significant in “To Kill a Mockingbird”; at first, it is considered to be “proud” but over time this opinion changes.
The old court-house clock suffered its preliminary strain and struck the hour, eight deafening bongs that shook out bones” The clock, like Maycomb, needs to be changed to survive through making progress. Another symbol of the necessity for change in Maycomb is the fire engine. When, like racism, a fire spreads through Maycomb’s streets the fire engine is needed to put it out. However, “the old fire truck, killed by the cold, was being pushed from town by a crowd of men. The hose burst and water shot up, tinkling down on the pavement. ” Nothing in Maycomb works properly, which reflects the everyday lives of so many of the town’s inhabitants.
Racism does not work and needs to be stopped for Maycomb to be able to progress as a town. Stopping racism is symbolised by Miss Maudie pulling up the nutgrass. “She subjected it to blasts from beneath with a poisonous substance”. When Scout replies, “Why can’t you just pull it up? ” Miss Maudie answers, “Why, one sprig of nutgrass can ruin a whole yard… and the wind blows it all over Maycomb County! “; describing that to get rid of the racism in Maycomb, you have to get rid of all traces of it. This is then proved in the novel, because the two most racist and vicious characters; Mrs Dubose and Mr Ewell both die.
A theme well shown through the novel is that education is essential for progress to be made, and that children are the future. But even the education system is backward in Maycomb. Scout is a very intelligent, bright child, and cannot wait until the day that she starts school. “I never looked forward more to anything in my life” But she soon discovers that “school’s different”. Scout’s lessons are made up of useless topics. “Miss Caroline began the day by reading us a story about cats. ”
Scout, unlike the rest of her class, is perfectly literate, and therefore is bored out of her mind when told to learn the alphabet. she discovered that I was literate and looked at me with more than faint distaste. ” The education system uses a “pigeonholing” method of teaching, typical of the Democratic beliefs that run through the southern states at the time. “try to undo the damage” Scout and Jem learn so much more outside of the school than they do in school, because Atticus teaches them about life. However, Miss Caroline tells Scout, “Your father does not know how to teach” which is so ironic, as Atticus teaches Scout and Jem much more important lessons than those that they learn in school.
Scout is told that she is not allowed to continue reading at home, and this devastates Scout, “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing” This heavily emphasises the fact that reading, and education is as essential as air for progress to take place. It becomes very apparent that the people in charge of education know little about teaching methods when Scout describes the “Current events period”. The lesson does sound like a rewarding lesson for the school children, until the reasons why they have the period are made clear.
Standing in front of his fellows encouraged good posture and gave a child poise;” Scout sees the poor education she is receiving, and describes herself as “inching sluggishly along the treadmill of Maycomb’s education system. ” The children are not allowed to transgress certain boundaries of education: “We don’t write in the first grade, we print. ” A good education is vital to avoid continuing the cyclical rut that is Maycomb. But due to the backward nature of the education system, Scout’s teacher says that she will “try to undo the damage” of Scout’s reading, when, if anything, reading at home will improve her education.
What the children need to be educated is that “everyone’s gotta learn,” because “nobodies born knowing” that racism is wrong. When the gossipy community of Maycomb spreads malicious and inaccurate rumours about “niggers” and “nigger lovers”, the untainted, impartial children become accustomed to hearing them, and the rumours and disapproving taunts towards black people become engraved in the children’s minds and they will adopt these ideals into their lives: “‘S what everybody at school says. ” It is here that Tom Johnson comes into the book.
A rabid dog is roaming the streets, and to avoid innocent people being harmed by it, Atticus Finch, a non-racist, good-hearted man shoots it dead with one bullet. Only Atticus can kill the dog in one shot, and only Atticus can start to wipe out racism, symbolised in the dangerous contagious disease of rabies: “Mr Finch, this is a one-shot job” To completely get rid of racism, however will take a long time. “I won’t live to see the law changed, and if you do, you’ll be an old man” Change is not easy, and doesn’t happen overnight.
The time that passes in “To Kill a Mockingbird” is unclear, “And it had happened years ago. No, only last summer- no, summer before last” emphasising the fact that change takes a very long time to appear significant. The story just gradually continues until something significant happens, like the school years passing to remind you of how old the children are. “Jem was now in the sixth grade” The children are the future, the children are the way forward, and it takes a child, and Scout’s sweetness to stop a lynch mob.
So it took an eight-year-old child to bring ’em to their senses…. That proves something – that a gang of wild animals can be stopped, simply because they’re still human. Hmp, maybe we need a police force of children. ” The children aren’t yet tainted by what adults feel about the colour of skin, only when they grow up, do they start to understand what prejudice is, and only through the adults to the children learn to hate the black people. “Let him get a little older and he wont get sick and cry”
The black community’s lives need to change, because they live in the most run down part of town, further away than the rubbish dump. They have the worst jobs, and are not entitled to an education, which is the only way out of their trap of poverty and ignorance. It is the only way for the blacks to be appreciated by the whites, and seen as intelligent, or important individuals. Zeebo, Calpurnia’s son is educated. He is literate, because his mother taught him to read, yet he has one of the worst jobs in Maycomb, rubbish man, despite his obvious capabilities.
The final change that needs to take place is in the law system. Despite hearing the most blatant amount of evidence, despite the fact that the whole courtroom, on seeing the evidence that Atticus showed, knew that Tom Robinson was innocent. “There’s no way no jury can convict on what we just heard” The jury still found Tom guilty. To the children, “each guilty was like a separate jab”. However, the jury took over four hours to reach a unanimous decision. However, at least the jury had thought about all the decisions and it had taken 4 hours for some of the jury members to back down.
Some of the jury members being Cunninghams, who earlier on in the novel were taking part in the lynch mob, who were going to lynch Tom Robinson. However, Atticus knew that the jury would charge Tom Robinson with rape, “He was guilty the second Mayella Ewell opened her mouth” Atticus left that case hopefully, because something had changed in the mind of the jury. Throughout the novel, it is made clear that for progress and change to be made, education and time is needed. However, when the education system is as poor as it is in Maycomb, it is much more difficult.
The majority of the younger generations in Maycomb are badly influenced by their elders, continuing racism travelling through the generations. Racism needs to be stopped altogether, as portrayed by Harper Lee in the symbols of the nutgrass and the fire. Even a tiny amount of racism is easily spread. It is also clear that change takes time and is not going to happen all at once. Therefore, the non-racist part of Maycomb’s community is waiting eagerly for this change to happen.