Please explain the following passage from Chapter 1 of To Kill a Mockingbird: "There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with...But it was a time of...

Please explain the following passage from Chapter 1 of To Kill a Mockingbird:

"There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with...But it was a time of vague optimism for some people: Maycomb County had recently been told that it had nothing to fear but fear itself."

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This passage is part of the adult Scout's description of Maycomb and the pervading atmosphere of the setting of the Great Depression of the 1930s.  Maycomb is a sleepy Southern town whose economy suffers just as that of so many other small towns across the country. Yet, Scout adds, there is a "vague optimism," a somewhat shaky view that things may get better since Franklin D. Roosevelt has taken office in 1932.

Maycomb County had recently been told that it had nothing to fear but fear itself.

The phrase in bold is extracted From Roosevelt's 1932 inaugural speech in which he suggests that America can pull itself out of the Depression. All that stands in the way is panic and irrational fears that can alter a manageable situation unmanageable.

Interestingly, these lines carry some irony as Tom Robinson must eventually fear fear itself during his trial in the latter part of the narrative.  For, the Southern town of Maycomb yet fears changes in the social order, and the community's fear generates the injustice done Tom.

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gmuss25 | Elementary School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Chapter 1, Jean Louise Finch is giving a description of Maycomb, her hometown. She describes Maycomb as an old, sleepy town where buildings are run-down and citizens move slowly. Jean Louise proceeds to explain the dire economic conditions by mentioning that there was "nothing to buy and no money to buy it with" (Lee 6). However, Jean comments

"it was a time of vague optimism for some people: Maycomb County had recently been told that it had nothing to fear but fear itself" (Lee 6).

This quote is interesting because it establishes the setting of the story which takes place in the early 1930s. As was mentioned in the previous post, the quote about fear references President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's First Inaugural Address which was held on March 4, 1933. President Roosevelt gave the country hope by encouraging them to look past their irrational fears. Although many Americans were suffering during the Great Depression, many citizens believed that the economy would improve under President Roosevelt. The hope that was spreading throughout the country is what Jean Louise Finch refers to as the "vague optimism" felt by some of the citizens living in Maycomb County. 

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