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Needless to say, author Harper Lee's choice of a Deep South setting during the midst of the Great Depression was essential to the story of racial tensions deriving from the trial of a black man accused of raping a white woman. The success of her novel could not possibly have succeeded without her choice of Maycomb as the setting. But Lee also created Maycomb as an isolated small town, far away from other urban centers because
There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County. (Chapter 1)
Because of Maycomb's isolation and position far away from riverboat transportation in its early days, "the town remained the same size for a hundred years." Maycomb did grow somewhat, but "It grew inward...," and
... the same families married the same families until the members of the community looked faintly alike. (Chapter 12)
Consequently, the events of the world outside Maycomb had little bearing on the town's inhabitants, and the people had little tolerance for outsiders or people who were judged different from the norm. Maycomb remained "an island in a patchwork sea of cottonfields and timberland." Everyone was poor during these desperate days of the Depression where the only hope for prosperity came from the encouraging words of the new President Franklin Delano Roosevelt--another outsider who did not seem to be trusted by the people of Maycomb. Change was even slower to come to Maycomb than elsewhere, and human oddities like Boo Radley (or even the Misses Tutti & Frutti) were more likely to be scorned than pitied. A man like Bob Ewell, who came from an old family that was nonetheless "the disgrace of Maycomb for three generations," could be despised one day yet could still find support from the white populace when it came down to his word against that of a black man. Negroes were on the bottom of the town's social ladder, as they were in most of the Deep South, and it would be decades before African Americans would begin to see a change in their social standing. It becomes clear by the end of the story that though Maycomb may be a typical small, Southern town, its change into the modern world of the 20th century is one of "baby steps" and not giant leaps.
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