What is Maycomb's disease? What effect does it have on the people of Maycomb? Is there a cure?

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price7781 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Maycomb’s disease in To Kill a Mockingbird was racism.  Maycomb was a town that was living in the southern past where discrimination and inequality were the values of the white citizens.  The separation of the races was important, and the trial of Tom Robinson showed this division in the community.  The South was also worried about the mixing of races at this time; and therefore, it was inconceivable that a white woman and a black man could have a relationship, even if just a friendship.  To save face, Mayella Ewell lied and said that Tom Robinson raped her when, in fact, Bob Ewell beat her when he saw Tom helping Mayella move a dresser. 

Racism affected everyone in town, and especially impacted Atticus and Tom Robinson’s family.  There was a southern hierarchy in town that had been established for years, and everyone knew his place in that system.  A mob felt it could hang a black man without a trial, Mayella Ewell destroyed a life by lying to save her reputation, and Dolphus Raymond had to pretend to be a drunk to live with black people.  It was these old values and beliefs that came out of slavery and Jim Crow laws that ruled the social climate of towns like Maycomb.

One of the most important symbols of Maycomb’s racism was the rabid “town” dog that wandered into town.  The dog stopped at the intersection where he could go into town or down Atticus’s street.  The dog turned towards Atticus, and Atticus killed the dog. The rabid dog was diseased with rabies, a disease that makes one become vicious and insane.  By killing the dog, Atticus was metaphorically killing racism.  He became a starting point for change when he represented Tom Robinson because he had respect for all people and understood what it was to “live in someone else’s skin.”

 Dolphus Raymond was also a symbol of a changing South because of his acceptance of blacks in the community. 

Mrs. Dubose’s opiate addiction was also symbolic of racism in Maycomb.  The addiction represents the old ways of thinking and feeling about race.  She won her battle against her addiction, a hope for the town who needed to stop their addiction to racism, power, and privilege. 

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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