Understanding the social and economic differences in Maycomb becomes much easier when we are able to see the characters in their era and location. To Kill a Mockingbird is set in a fictional town in Alabama named Maycomb. The story starts in the year 1933, less than seventy years after slavery was abolished. The lasting effects of slavery are still very evident in this small town, as evinced by the divide and distrust between the races.
Very little intermingling is done between the races in Maycomb unless it has to do with a working relationship, as in the case of Calpurnia, the Finch's maid. Calpurnia is black, but she is treated as if she is family when she is inside the Finch's home. Sadly, this familial relationship does not go much further than the Finch's front door, as outsiders still toe the line of social separation between the races. People of color live on their side of town, while white people live on the other. Even the churches are divided by race, as Lula makes clear when she says, "You ain't got no business bringin' white chillun here—they got their church, we got our'n. It is our church, ain't it, Miss Cal?" Black people can work for white people, but they cannot socialize outside of these relationships.
Due to this separation between the races, much of the economic divide runs across racial lines as well. There are a few exceptions, such as the Ewells, who are white but who live in poverty and squalor. There are also very hard-working and upstanding people of color, such as Tom Robinson and his wife.
The reader must put themselves in the time and place of To Kill a Mockingbird in order to grasp the social and economic constructs which shape the action of the novel and ultimately lead to Tom Robinson's state-sanctioned murder.