What are the cabins like where Tom Robinson lived in To Kill a Mockingbird?
In chapter 9, Atticus tells Scout the following about Tom Robinson, his new client who just happens to be black:
"I'm simply defending a Negro—his name's Tom Robinson. He lives in that little settlement beyond the town dump. He's a member of Calpurnia's church, and Cal knows his family well. She says they're clean-living folks" (75).
From this passage the reader can infer that the little settlement refers to the number of people who live near the dump as well as the size of their homes. Even though Tom's family lives near the dump, Calpurnia notes that they are clean, which not only suggests their living quarters, but their characters as well. In contrast, the Ewells live near the dump, too, but they are not clean-living people. The Ewell children are dirty and are forced to scavenge for food in the dump. The Robinsons, on the other hand, don't do that. They work for their home and food while also keeping themselves clean and being upstanding people in their community.
There aren't any other specific descriptions of the cabins where the black community live. There is, however, a description of their church building that may represent the types of old, dilapidated, and worn-down structures they live in.
"The churchyard was brick-hard clay, as was the cemetery beside it . . . A few graves in the cemetery were marked with crumbling tombstones; newer ones were outlined with brightly colored glass and broken Coca-Cola bottles. Lightning rods guarding some graves denoted dead who rested uneasily; stumps of burned-out candles stood at the heads of infant graves" (118).
Based on the items found in the churchyard, one can get a glimpse of the black culture of the time period. They didn't have much, but they used what they had and didn't waste anything. Also, the church is made of brick-hard clay, so they may have used such clay within the construction of their homes. Adding to the situation is the fact that the United States is in a financial depression during the time of the novel, so living conditions must be meager at best.
The cabins where Tom Robinson and the other blacks lived are little better than shacks. They are all in the same area separated from the poor whites. In the story, the reader gets a better description of the Ewell's cabin which is also little better than a shack but it is to be understood that they do live slightly better than the Negroes on the outskirts of town.
These cabins would have cold in the winter and difficult to heat. They were probably comprised of two rooms one in the front and one in the back. One room would have been used to cook in and the other to sleep in. There would have been no indoor plumbing or running water.