How does the novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee explore the experiences of belonging through characters and setting?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Harper Lee's novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, the experiences of belonging through characters and setting is seen in the small town of Maycomb and through the presence of "family" throughout the story.

First, we see examples of "belonging" with regard to people throughout the community of Maycomb, the fictitious town Lee creates as the backdrop (or setting) for the story.

The people on the block where Scout and Jem live are part of a microcosm within their community (except for the Radleys who choose not to associate with their neighbors). For example, the Finches are friendly with Miss Maudie. The children have a close relationship with her: she bakes for them, and talks to them about important issues. For example, it is Miss Maudie who discusses "religion" with Scout, though Scout seems not to fully understand the reasons for Miss Maudie's difficulty with the "foot-washing Baptists" (or the foot-washers' lack of tolerance) who bother Miss Maudie. It is also Miss Maudie who tries to get Scout to be more understanding and compassionate regarding Boo Radley by addressing foolish rumors that gossips (like Stephanie Crawford) spread. Miss Maudie explains that Boo is really just a result of the house he has grown up in:

"No, child," she said, "that is a sad house. I remember Arthur Radley when he was a boy. He always spoke nicely to me, no matter what folks said he did. Spoke as nicely as he knew how."

"You reckon he's crazy?"

Miss Maudie shook her head. "If he's not he should be by now. Things that happen to people we never really know. What happens in houses behind closed doors, what secrets—"

There are other forms of family where characters feel they belong, even if they are not a "functional family." Mayella Ewell is mistreated by her father, but she staunchly defends him in court, even though she is black and blue from being beaten at his hands.

"When he's—riled, has he ever beaten you?"...

"My father's never touched a hair o' my head my life," she declared firmly. "He never touched me."

The neighbors in the town are a part of the setting: depicting older days when families watched out for each other, knew each other like family and were a part of the everyday landscape, giving the novel a feeling of "small town."

The characters also provide another aspect to the setting, which is very much a part of the plot: the separation of whites and blacks within the community. The whites very much "belong" within Maycomb's town limits, but the blacks live on the fringes of town—barely tolerated by some...not at all tolerated by Bob Ewell, where Tom Robinson is concerned.

However, even though the blacks are relegated to a segregated church and positions of servitude to the whites, they are another form of community and family. They find strength with each other, and quibble with each other. When Tom is in jail, the church takes up an offering for his family so they can eat. The black community takes care of its own, like family:

Reverend Sykes emptied the can onto the table and raked the coins into his hand... "This is not enough, we must have ten dollars....You all know what it's for—Helen can't leave those children to work while Tom's in jail. If everybody gives one more dime, we'll have it...Alec, shut the doors. Nobody leaves here till we have ten dollars."

In this story, the setting and the characters provide examples of the experience of belonging.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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