Compare Harper Lee's description of Maycomb, Alabama, in To Kill a Mockingbird with John Dollard's sociological description of a typical town in the South in the 1930s.

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I assume you are referring to John Dollard's essay entitled "Southerntown," which does seem to be an interesting comparison to Harper Lee's Maycomb, Alabama, in To Kill a Mockingbird

Southerntown is a town divided by color; the whites live on the "good" side of the tracks while the blacks live on the other, less desirable side. The houses on the white side of town are roomier and have more space for children to play; they are generally better kept and have more modern conveniences, such as telephones and lights. The houses on the other side of town are neither as well built or as well kept; only two streets are paved and only a few houses have electricity. The white side of town is quieter, with fewer people milling about but more cars on the roads. The black neighborhood has noticeably more laughter.

Southerntown is the county seat, so it has a courthouse where some men "lounge and talk" some afternoons. 

One of the streets is lined with stores serving Negroes, though very few are owned by
Negroes. A single floor of one building is reserved for the few Negro professional persons in the

The primary industry in Southerntown is cotton. People like to come to town to go to the movie theater, but the busiest day in Southerntown is Saturdays, when everyone comes to town and the atmosphere is festive. Sundays are quieter, as people are in church, though the black churches are more lively. White folks have their big meal at noon; in the afternoon, the black maids all go home to prepare the big meal of the day for their own families before coming back to serve and clean up their white families' dinners.

Summer days seem long, still, and intensely hot, and the few rich white families leave during this heat. It rains a lot here, and "it does occasionally snow." The land surrounding Southerntown is comprised of flat fields full of cotton, intersected by gravel roads. 

Maycomb is also a southern town whose real estate is is divided by color. The lightpoles and telephone poles are all on the white side of town, and the houses are much nicer and the yards much roomier, as well. The black part of town is much the same; however, in Maycomb there is also the Ewells' house, which is an anomaly in the black neighborhood. We do not know much about the downtown industries, just that they exist.

Like Southerntown, Maycomb is the county seat and has a courthouse where people gather and talk. The primary industry here is also cotton, but Scout says that going to church is "Maycomb’s principal recreation," not going to movies. The black church is lively, presumably much livelier that the white church. Saturdays are lively in Maycomb, as well. We don't know what all the maids do, but we know Calpurnia stays at the Finches' all day. As we see on Scout's first day of school, the big meal in Maycomb is also eaten at noon.

Maycomb is also hot in the summers. Looking back, Scout says:

Somehow, it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer’s day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.

It often rains in Maycomb, too, and it snows for the first time since 1885. We don't know much about the land surrounding the town.

Obviously the towns are strikingly similar though not precisely the same. 

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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