In "To Kill a Mockingbird," how does economic class divide the people in Maycomb into four different groups?

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the end of chapter 23, Jem attempts to explain to his sister the "four kinds of folks in the world." Jem attempts to explain Maycomb's caste system by categorizing the citizens in Maycomb into four different groups. Jem tells Scout,

"There’s the ordinary kind like us and the neighbors, there’s the kind like the Cunninghams out in the woods, the kind like the Ewells down at the dump, and the Negroes" (Lee, 230).

1. In Maycomb, the educated white property-owning citizens like Atticus and his neighbors in town are at the top of the caste system. They are financially stable and hail from revered families throughout the small community.

2. The second tier of Maycomb's caste system includes poor white farmers like the Cunninghams, who live in the country. These lower-class farmers are not educated and struggle to make ends meet. However, they are not on welfare, have integrity, and are respected throughout Maycomb's community.

3. The third tier of Maycomb's caste system includes poor white families like the Ewells, who do not work and collect welfare. Families like the Ewells are viewed with contempt by the white citizens in Maycomb and are considered a disgrace. The only reason the Ewells are not in the fourth tier of Maycomb's caste system is because they are white.

4. The fourth tier of Maycomb's caste system includes the African American citizens. In the prejudiced society of Maycomb, which enforces the racist Jim Crow laws, African Americans are marginalized and segregated. Despite a black person's reputable, outstanding character, he or she is still considered a second-class citizen based on the color of their skin.

Jessica Akcinar eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jem sums up the class division in Maycomb when he says, "There's four kinds of folks in the world. There's the ordinary kind like us and the neighbors, there's the kind like the Cunninghams out in the woods, the kind like the Ewells down at the dump, and the Negroes."

In Maycomb, both economic status and race play a role in class status. Jem tries to explain the Maycomb caste system to Scout by categorizing the four types of people found in Maycomb society. He then lists the types of people in order from the most to the least respectable. "Ordinary" people like themselves at the top of the list. They live in normal houses in town and have descent jobs. Next come people like the Cunninghams, who are poor and live in the woods but who still work and have some sort of civility. Following the Cunninghams are people like the Ewells who live by the dump, live off the government because they do not work, and live like animals with no rules. Finally, and at the bottom of the list, are black people, who most people in Maycomb see as the least respectable type of people. Not only are they poor, but they are also African-American, and many people in Maycomb are racist. 

Scout disagrees with this system and concludes that "there's just one kind of folks. Folks." Jem concurs and believes that these unfair social beliefs are what keep Boo Radley from coming out.

engtchr5 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To answer this question appropriately, one must consider several different families:

1. The Finches. Not poor, not necessarily wealthy. Atticus tells the children that they are, in fact, poor, but they are not as destitute as --

2. The Cunninghams. A poor family that "had probably never seen three quarters together in (their) life," the Cunninghams are poor, but proud. They refuse to accept charity, and choose to get by in a meager fashion.

3. The Ewells. Both poor and uneducated, the Ewells keep their children out of school to do field-hand labor, poach game off others' property (despite the fact that the "rules are bent" for them), and exhibit other qualities of low living.

4. The African-American community at large: Calpurnia's people and Tom Robinson's people are just as financially strapped as everyone else in Maycomb County, AL, but their community helps one another out and supports each other in times of need. This is best exhibited in the "church" scene, where Calpurnia takes the children to her church.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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