How is the importance of social class and tradition shown in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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

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The Maycomb social order is all very confusing to Scout and Jem, who are descendants from one of the founding fathers of the area. According to Aunt Alexandra, who

... was of the opinion, obliquely expressed, that the longer a family had been squatting on one piece of land the finer it was...,  (Chapter 13)

this makes the Finches "fine folks." Their inherited "gentle breeding" sets them apart from most of Maycomb's older families, like the Cunninghams and Ewells--families with whom Alexandra will not allow Scout to associate. But to Scout, her aunt's reasoning

"... makes the Ewells fine folks, then..."  (Chapter 13)

Unlike brother Jem, who has a pretty good idea of Maycomb's social pecking order--the Finches are at the top and Negroes are at the bottom--Scout sees little difference between people, believing that there is basically

"... just one kind of folks. Folks."  (Chapter 23)

By the end of the novel, Jem and Scout are older and wiser. They witness the lies told by Bob and Mayella Ewell at the trial and the jury's biased decision that sends Tom Robinson to prison. After all,

"The jury couldn't possibly be expected to take Tom Robinson's word against the Ewells'--" (Chapter 9)

--a white man's word was always taken over the word of a black man--and Atticus's efforts to defend Tom Robinson result in only the smallest "baby step" toward racial justice. Scout sees that racial intolerance and hypocrisy can be found even among the "most devout" women in town, but she is also able to see that justice still can prevail, even for a man like the reclusive Boo Radley, who is spared the public exposure of a trial or investigation after Bob Ewell's body is found. According to Sheriff Tate, Boo did

"... this town a great service..."  (Chapter 30)

when he killed Bob, and even Scout finds Tate's kindly act a fair one for Maycomb's most talked-about but never-seen resident.

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