What does the Maycomb County Jail look like from the outside in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Maycomb county jail has apparently been constructed as an experiment in design by its architect: "It was certainly someone's dream." Out of place with the utilitarian designs of the other public buildings, the jail is described by Scout as "a miniature Gothic joke" with its flying buttresses on a narrow building wedged between two others.

This is the same jailhouse in which Arthur Radley spent some time in the basement when he was an impressionable youth who went around with the Old Sarum group. But the building's design is so unorthodox and impractical for a jail that few would suspect its use. For instance, the building is so narrow that there is only space enough for one cell, and it is only tall enough for two. In addition, the windows appear to be more like those of a church than a jail. Then, too, on the evening that Atticus decides he must protect Tom Robinson from falling into the grip of an angry mob, the children notice that the building has inadequate lighting because Atticus has had to run an extension cord down the center of the building, at the end of which is only one bare bulb.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The tiny Maycomb County Jail must surely have been the ugliest building in town. Scout describes it as "hideous" and a "miniature Gothic joke. The jail is "wedged" between B. B. Underwood's Maycomb Tribune office and Tindal's Hardware Store. It stands two stories high, but it is so narrow that there is only enough room for two jail cells--one at ground level and one on the second floor. It must have been designed to look like a small castle, with "tiny battlements and flying buttresses." It had a "red brick facade" with steel bars at the windows. Scout calls it the town's lone "conversation piece": Some people thought it presented a "good solid respectable look," while others claimed it looked "like a Victorian privy." The jail had no outside light, so on the night that Jem, Scout and Dill approached it, they found Atticus sitting outside reading from the light of an extension cord and bulb he had positioned above the door.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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