Discuss and describe the town of Maycomb in To Kill a Mockingbird.  In what ways does the town and its people set the mood and tone for the novel? (give examples)

Expert Answers
gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Maycomb, Alabama is described as being a "slow town," where the majority of the inhabitants are old and there are no significant attractions. It is portrayed as a small country town, and the community is predominately made up of conservative, traditional Southern citizens, who are prejudiced against African Americans. In chapter 1, Scout describes her hometown by saying:

People moved slowly then. They ambled across the square, shuffled in and out of the stores around it, took their time about everything. A day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer. 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 (Lee 5).

Scout's description is significant because like the slow-moving town, the citizens also cling to their backward, traditionalist ways. Throughout the novel, Scout's father challenges the racist culture of Maycomb by defending a black man in front of a prejudiced jury. As Scout and Jem mature, they begin to notice the overt prejudice throughout their community and witness racial injustice firsthand. Atticus, a proponent of equal rights, and a few other citizens wish to alter the prejudiced perception throughout Maycomb's community. The jury members who wrongly convict Tom Robinson and the racist citizens who criticize Atticus represent the traditionalist culture of Maycomb. Despite Atticus's loss, Miss Maudie tells Jem:

Atticus Finch won’t win, he can’t win, but he’s the only man in these parts who can keep a jury out so long in a case like that. And I thought to myself, well, we’re making a step—it’s just a babystep, but it’s a step (Lee 220).

Even though Maycomb and its citizens are described as being slow, the reader gets a sense that the culture is gradually moving towards equality and is slowly changing for the better. 

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Maycomb is a small town in southern Alabama, probably much like author Harper Lee's hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. The outskirts of the town lie alongside the Alabama River.

Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it... People moved slowly then... There was no hurry, for there was nothing to do, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with.

There was little for the children to do aside from attending church and school. There was no movie theatre, and most of the businesses were situated around the town square. Change had not yet come to Maycomb, and there were still survivors of the Civil War to remind the townspeople of better days.

Much of Scout's description comes as a retrospective from her youth. The Great Depression was still raging, and times were hard. Blacks and whites were still separated, not only by boundaries but also by the town's social institutions. The trial of Tom Robinson was a big event in Maycomb, in part because the charges against Tom could mean the death penalty; but it also symbolized the division of the times. In the end, as Atticus had predicted, a black man's word could not be expected to be believed over that of a white man's, even if the white man was a Ewell, "the disgrace of Maycomb for three generations." Times in Maycomb had probably changed a bit by the time Scout became an adult, retelling her tale of the three important summers she spent over the course of the book. But during the story, Maycomb was a town full of a typical Southerners of many types--white and black, common and eccentric, but mostly poor, all of them trying to ride out the bad times while looking ahead to better days ahead.

mkcapen1 | Student

In the book "To Kill a Mockingbird" Maycomb is a small town in Alabama.  Maycomb is an old southern town.  The streets are not paved and turn to "red slop" which means red mud.  The courthouse is described as sagging in the square.  Mules ride through hitched to carts.  People amble through the town moving slowly.  They have no where to go and no money to buy anything.

"Maycomb County has recently been told that it had nothing to fear but fear itself."(6)

The description of the town, the slow moving people, and the remark about fear is all part of setting the mood of provincial life.  Nothing much happens but there is an underlying fear.  It is racism.  It will surface later when Tom Robinson, a black man is accused of raping Miss Ewell.  He is innocent, but the southern town is still in the prime of racism.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question