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

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Jessica Akcinar | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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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's profile pic

engtchr5 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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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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