What are the differences among the Finch family, the Radleys, and the Ewells in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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After Aunt Alexandra arrives, many of her efforts involve establishing proper decorum in the family. One explanation she provides to the children is that of the lineage of their family and that of the others in Maycomb County, an area where families are either upper class or lower class.

It is important to remember that the South did not become industrialized until the twentieth century, and little manufacturing came until the steel mills and textile mills of the early 1900s. Consequently, there was not a real middle class; essentially, then, people were poor sharecroppers like the Cunninghams or wealthier landowners such as the Finches. Thus, the Finches are considered among the genteel class, and this is why Aunt Alexandra wants Jean Louise to wear dresses and behave in a certain manner and remember their name. Unfortunately for some families, the devastation during and after the Civil War changed their economic status and some families never recovered property or other economic sources that were lost. At the lowest end is the Ewells, a family known commonly as White Trash. They are ignorant, dirty, unsanitary, shiftless, unethical, alcoholic, and supported only by the government; when Bob Ewell gets this check, he uses it for drink and neglects his children. The Radleys are not as bad as the Ewells, perhaps because they keep to themselves and are clean, but the comment has been made that Mr. Nathan Radley "bought cotton," a Southern expression for doing nothing. So, the Radleys, too, would be classified as poor whites, but lower than the Cunninghams, who work and have pride as they will never take anything from others nor accept a welfare check.

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