In To Kill a Mockingbird, what does “Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town” (p11) mean?
In describing Maycomb in this manner, Harper Lee captures the novel's historical era as well as its setting in the deep South. Maycomb, like the rest of the country, is mired in the Great Depression of the 1930s. There is no economic growth or development in Maycomb; there is no money to maintain or improve conditions in the stagnant little town:
In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square.
Daily life in Maycomb was slow, partly as a result of the oppressive Alabama heat; as Lee writes, "Somehow, it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer's day . . . ." The slow pace, however, also resulted from the nature of the town--and the times--in general:
People moved slowly then. They ambled across the square, shuffled in and out of the stores around it, took their time about everything. A day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County.
Maycomb just seems worn down and worn out at this time in its history, hanging on until better times arrived.
Maycomb is down on its luck. Built at the center of the county as the county seat, it found itself off the beaten track in spite of that. Hot, slow, with summer lasting a thousand times longer than any other season, the Maycomb that Scout remembers lacks the elegance and dignity one might hope for in something old, instead being relegated to the status of "tired and old." It seems to lack the energy and "oomph" to get unstuck from its ways. The energy of the Finch children (who are neither tired nor old), and the energy of Atticus's integrity (though he claims to be tired and old too), help move things along by the time the novel ends.