How does the identity of Maycomb, Alabama, change throughout the course of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the opening chapter of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout, the narrator, describes Maycomb as a sleepy, "tired old town." It was particularly sleepy and tired due to the Great Depression. As a result of financial distress, "People moved slowly then" because "there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with" (Ch. 1). Yet Scout also describes it as an optimistic town. In general, she depicts a classically relaxed, Southern town with upbeat spirits.

As the novel progresses, racial tensions due to Tom Robinson's trial bring out the town's aggression and hatred. At one point in the story, Atticus tells Jem that there have never been mobs or gangs in Maycomb. Plus, he states that the only time the Ku Klux Klan was present was in 1920, but "they couldn't find anybody to scare," so they quickly dispersed (Ch. 15). However, immediately after making these statements, Atticus must face a lynch mob in front of Maycomb's jailhouse. After Robinson loses his trial, he is shot to death with 17 bullets, a ghastly and unjustified number of bullets, while trying to escape prison. Both the lynch mob and his death signify that Maycomb has changed from a relaxed, lazy town to a town overruled by its racist hatred and is growing violent as a result. The book even ends with violence when the town's most violent member, Bob Ewell, attacks Atticus's children with the intention of killing them.

Yet despite the change from a calm atmosphere to a violent one, hope still remains in Maycomb. Hope is particularly expressed in Miss Maudie's comment to the children after the trial that Atticus is the "only man in these parts who can keep a jury out so long in a case like that"; she further notes that the town is making a "baby-step" towards creating a more just society (Ch. 22).

Hence, all in all, the town changes from a relaxed town to a violent town, while some of its members hold on to hope for change.

rowe1150 | Student

How does the identity of Maycomb, Alabama change throughout the course of the book?

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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