How does Harper Lee show poverty in the book To Kill a Mockingbird?

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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Although Scout rarely complains about the hard times suffered by the people of Maycomb during her narration, we know that

... there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with...

The Great Depression has hit everyone in Maycomb: There are the ultra-poor families, such as the Ewells and Cunninghams, who don't know where their next meals are coming from. There are the poor but hard-working African Americans, who live in the Quarters and scrape together what they can to eat--including squirrel, possum and rabbit. Their own poverty is best seen in Chapter 12 when Jem and Scout accompany Calpurnia to First Purchase Church: The church is unpainted, unceilinged and without electricity, and the congregation has to be coerced into giving up what little money they have to contribute to the family of Tom Robinson. The Negroes are poorly paid: Sophy, Mrs. Merriweather's maid,

"... needs her dollar and a quarter every week she can get it."

But it is not just the poor families who are affected. Even professionals such as Atticus and Dr. Reynolds are forced to accept trade as payment for their services. Many of the characters use boarders to supplement their income: Miss Caroline boards with Miss Maudie; Mr. Avery boards near the Finch house; and Maudie eventually moves in with Miss Stephanie while her house is being rebuilt. Scout and Jem have apparently never been out of Maycomb County, since there is no extra money for travel and because there was

... nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County.

The children are forced to learn about the extravagances of life outside Maycomb through Dill, whose parents are apparently not affected by the Depression as badly as most. But where Dill usually has a little money in his pocket when Jem and Scout do not, the Finch children are rewarded with a loving father and stable family life--better than money during the desperate financial times of the 1930s.

 

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