What is Maycomb's "usual disease" in To Kill a Mockingbird?
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In Chapter 9 of "To Kill a Mockingbird," Atticus talks with his brother Jack about the forthcoming trial of Tom Robinson who is being accused of raping Mayella Ewell.. Atticus explains to Jack that the jury "couldn't possibly be expected to take Tom Robinson's word against the Ewells'." Adding to this, Atticus explains that he has hoped that he could get through life without being involved in such a case, but he has been appointed by the court. Jack comments, "Let this cup pass from you, eh?"
Right. But do you think I could face my children otherwise? You know what's going to happen as as I do, Jack, and I hope and pray I can get Jem and Scout through it without bitterness, and most of all, without catching Maycomb's usual disease. Why reasonable people go stark raving mad when anything involving a Negro comes up, is something I don't pretend to understand...I just hope that Jem and Scout come to me for their answers instead of listening to the town. I hope they trust me enough...Jean Louise?
Scout writes that it is many years before she realizes that Atticus means for her to hear everything he says so that she will understand the disease of social/racial prejudice. The metaphor "Maycomb's usual disease" is part of Harper Lee's social commentary.
"Maycomb's usual disease" refers to racism and other types of prejudice, which poison the interactions of many of the townspeople. Atticus tries to raise his children in a way that they do not fall victim to the contagious "disease" of racism and prejudice. People may argue that it refers only to racism, but there is also prejudice in the town regarding women, children, and those who live in poverty.
Simply put, it is racism. Atticus tells his brother, Jack, in Chapter 9 that he hopes he can prevent his own children from "catching Maycomb's usual disease"--that of "reasonable people go[ing] stark-raving mad when anything involving a Negro comes up." Atticus knows that he will make enemies from his decision to defend Tom Robinson, and he worries that the children will also get caught up in the racial frenzy. Atticus knows that the all-white jury will side with the Ewells, and that Tom has little chance of being freed except on appeal. Atticus worries about the "bitterness" that may the children may feel, and in the end, it is Jem who is most affected by Tom's conviction. Jem wonders if juries should be abolished and if the good people of Maycomb are really "the best folks in the world" after all.
Maycomb's usual disease is racism.
This particular quote from "To Kill a Mockingbird" occurs when Atticus is talking to Uncle Jack. Earlier in the day, Scout got into quite a bit of trouble because she fought with her cousin Francis. What the adults didn't realize at first is that Francis called Scout's father (Atticus) a "ni**er lover." After Scout is punished for fighting with Francis, she overhears Atticus and Uncle Jack talking about the trial of Tom Robinson. Atticus says that he hopes the children won't pick up Maycomb's usual disease, which is racism.
The novel is set in Maycomb, Alabama during the 1930s. At that time many white people were racist. Atticus was trying everything he could to keep his children from becoming racists.
"Maycomb's usual disease" refers to the towns inherent leaning towards racism and prejudice and the tendency to judge people too harshly for their actions without understanding their heart or intentions.
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