How is the Depression era setting essential to the narrative of To Kill a Mockingbird?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The historical setting of the 1930s accentuated the plight of the black.  For, many of the menial jobs performed by blacks at this time were taken from them by the out of work whites.  Further, the economic situation of the blacks was exacerbated by the fact that the KluKluxKlan and the Black Shirts terrorized blacks in order to prevent their partaking of the jobs which they were given with the WPA [Works Progress Administration]. While Alabama as well as North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, had laws specifically outlawing lynching as an illegal activity, lynchings were still common in other states.  In Lee's narrative, Sheriff Tate warns Atticus Finch of a possible lynch mob, a scene that creates a slight credibility gap since Alabama had a law prohibiting this.  But, the men could have taken Tom 188 miles across state lines to Columbus, Georgia.

With the setting of the Depression, the fact that the Ewells are poorer than others and Bob Ewell drinks away his welfare check, but he derogates and demeans the working Tom Robinson points to the Ewells' developed state of degeneracy. After all, to be beneath all the citizens of Maycomb during the Depressions bespeaks of their sloth and complete lack of pride.  For, the other citizens at least bring potatoes, okra, turnips and whatever they have in payment to Atticus Finch for his services rather than take anything for free as Ewell does.

That Atticus Finch possesses his unique ideas of social justice in the Deep South of 1930 is certainly an anomaly for this setting.  Perhaps, Lee portrays this lawyer of such strong convictions regarding social justice in such a contrasting society so that the reader can understand the magnitude of his integrity.  Certainly, it is a brave act of Atticus Finch to stand before the jury of twelve white men who hold to Jim Crow Law and declare,

"But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal...That institution, gentlemen, is a court....Our courts have their faults, as does any human institution, but in this country our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts all men are created equal."

The Depression Era was a period in which people began to reassess their values as their livehoods were taken from them, families became alienated as some departed in search of work, and others simply fled.  It may have been the first time for many to have reflected upon where America was going.  Set against the backdrop of this changing America, To Kill a Mockingbird, published during another turbulent time, appropriately portrays a changing attitude.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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