Set in the 1930s the novel presents a patriarchal society in which, among the whites, married women do not work and are subjugated to their husbands. It is the men who handle the affairs of politics, business, and finances, both in the individual household and on the world stage. Only men serve on juries, and if a family has a problem with others, it is the men who discuss issues with each other. In short, they make the rules of society and custom.
The dominant roles of men in To Kill a Mockingbird is illustrated in the following incidents:
- It is Mr. Nathan Radley who threatens the children with a shotgun after Jem tries to leave Boo a message, and it is also he who puts cement in the tree, ending the communication between Boo and Jem and Scout.
- It is Jem who invites Walter Cunningham home for dinner.
- It is Atticus who shoots the rabid dog
- It is Uncle Jack and Atticus who discuss the upcoming trial and Atticus's having been appointed defender of Tom Robinson
- It is the men of the town who come to the Finches' front yard to ask Atticus to find a different venue for the trial
- It is the men of the Old Sarum Bunch who threaten to take Tom and hang him. Mr. Cunningham's honor in leading the men away demonstrates respect for Atticus.
- Twelve men serve on the jury at the trial
- All the major roles of the trial are held by men
- Bob Ewell dominates Mayella and coerces her into accusing Tom Robinson of rape in order to save them the social shame of Mayella's actions.
- Ewell tries to exert his dominance over the Finch children and harm them.
- Boo Radley's heroic defense of Scout and Jem against Ewell saves their lives and teaches them to see things from a different perspective.
- Mr. Underwood's change of attitude about blacks, demonstrated in his obituary for Tom Robinson moves many of Maycomb's readers.
- Atticus is the moral center for Jem and Scout, teaching his children what bravery is by their exposure to Mrs. Dubose, and instructing Scout,
"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view--...until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."
Although for the most part, women play minor roles, they affect others greatly, at times.
- Miss Maudie provides many moral lessons to Jem, Scout, and Dill. For instance, she urges them to leave Boo Radley alone, "...that is a sad house. ...The things that happen to people, we never really know."
- Calpurnia teaches the children to treat everyone fairly, scolding Scout for her demeaning remarks about Walter's table manners and his being" just a Cunningham."
- At the missionary tea, Scout learns of the hypocrisy of adults in Maycomb as Mrs. Merriweather speaks of the great missionary work in Africa, yet derogates her maid for her discontent with the social situation of blacks in Maycomb.
- Aunt Alexandra displays her concern with social status when there are more important issues with which Atticus is concerned. However, her sisterly love comes through at the tea as she appreciates Miss Maudie's teasing of Mrs. Merriweather for her disparaging remarks about Atticus's being "good, but misguided."