What aspects of To Kill a Mockingbird seem to be particular to its setting? What aspects are universal in nature?

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The novel To Kill a Mockingbird is both set within a specific time and transcendent in its message. Much of the background and setting of the novel is very specific to its time and place. For example, the novel takes place in the deep South during the Great Depression. You...

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The novel To Kill a Mockingbird is both set within a specific time and transcendent in its message. Much of the background and setting of the novel is very specific to its time and place. For example, the novel takes place in the deep South during the Great Depression. You can see this in the descriptions of the characters' clothing and actions as well as the description of the town itself: an impoverished environment is evident in much of the novel.

Many of the gifts that are left for Scout and Jem are small trinkets (such as gum or a trashed watch) that have little monetary value are nevertheless interesting to the children in their mysterious origin. Additionally, the kids would play in the fields by shooting a BB gun, indicating that they spend most of their time exploring the outdoors.

The themes are much more transcendent though. Racism was prevalent and pervasive throughout American culture during this time period, and so it is certainly not unique to this region. In fact, racism and discrimination like this continued for many decades after the novel was written. The central message of the novel—to protect the innocent and stand up for what's right±is certainly a universal message that transcends the setting of the novel.

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As other answers have noted, the black/white segregation as practiced in Maycomb is particular to the southern United States before the civil rights movement. The Great Depression denotes a particular period in US history marked by poverty and economic trauma as well. Children today, for example, would not be impressed the way Scout and Jem are to be left a piece of gum or a broken watch in the knothole of a tree. Likewise, while racism still exists in this country, it is not codified into law in the same ways it is in 1930s Maycomb. We might note, as well, that the children in the novel do not have access to televised media of any sort, as commercial televisions were not yet on the market.

Universal themes the novel expresses include a cry for justice. Across almost all societies and civilizations, it is considered wrong to punish a person for a crime they did not commit. Therefore, almost anyone can understand why Atticus would feel compelled to do the right thing and mount a real defense of Tom Robinson. All communities have their outsiders as well, so Boo is a relatable figure across cultures. Likewise, children have to gradually come to grips with the imperfections of adults in their society as well flaws in the social structure itself. This can be difficult for young people to accept but is universally part of the process of maturation. In all cultures, too, if they are allowed, children engage in imaginative play that helps them grow up, just as Jem, Dill, and Scout do.

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To Kill a Mockingbird touches on universal themes and truths, such as the ways in which those who have less power in society are treated by those with more power. This is true in a universal way, but the ways it is manifested in Maycomb, Alabama, in the 1930s, the setting of the novel, is particular to the time and place.

The South in the 1930s was governed by Jim Crow laws, which meant that African Americans were treated as less credible than whites. Further, Tom Robinson, an African American defendant, is found guilty of raping a white woman even though he is clearly not guilty. In addition, it was a time and place in which girls were treated as inferior to boys and required to adhere to a strict code of behavior. Therefore, Scout was expected by characters such as her aunt Alexandra to behave in certain prescribed ways and to act like "a lady" even though these forms of behavior were not natural or desirable to Scout. There was a social pecking order in the society and a cruelty that arose from this pecking order.

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Two aspects of the story, in particular, distinguish the setting: the Great Depression of the 1930s as it affected small towns in the South and the effects of the pre-Civil War Southern culture upon the culture of the post-Civl War South. Maycomb is a poor place, its streets unpaved and its sidewalks cracked and broken. The courthouse "sagged" in the town square. There is no money for repairs or improvement. Scout recalls it as "a tired old town." She remembers "there was no where to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with." Being a rural community, Maycomb suffered because the farmers suffered most during the Depression, as Atticus pointed out. He himself was often paid in what his clients could grow on their land. When Tom Robinson's friends and family wanted to show their appreciation for Atticus, they brought him gifts of food.

The culture of the pre-Civil war South echoes in the story. It is seen in the deeply entrenched attitudes of racism; segregation is the norm, questioned by only a few in town. Racial hatred and violence is seen in the lynch mob that comes for Tom Robinson at the jail. Ideas of Southern tradition and social class are found in Aunt Alexandra's character. Numerous references are made throughout the story to Confederate generals and events from Southern history.

The novel's universal themes develop ideas of justice, courage, compassion, and brotherhood. The novel condemns hypocrisy and cruelty. Atticus is a universal character in that he represents all that is good and decent in human nature, all we should aspire to be. Also, Jem's and Scout's experiences in growing up are universal in a general sense, although their specific experiences grow out of life in Maycomb at that time. Like all children, Jem and Scout find much of the adult world confusing and frequently exasperating. Perhaps the most universal aspect of the story is a father's love for his children and his dedication to their well being. Atticus feels a tremendous moral responsibility toward his children, and he forms the center of their lives.

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