What are the societal expectations of Maycomb in To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Maycomb, Alabama, is a typical Southern town for the 1930s. In Chapter 13, Scout describes Maycomb as having a "caste system." 

  • There is an elite social class of those from old family names, such as the Finches, Mrs. Dubose, and Dolphus Raymond, and Mrs. Merriweather; these were the landed gentry of the Old South; these prominent citizens are the "pillars" of the Episcopal or Baptist churches.
  • There are few who constitute any real middle class because the South had almost no industry in this era. But, such people as Mr. Underwood and Mr. Deas, who own businesses are in this middle social position; Sheriff Heck Tate would be a little lower than they.
  • Then, there are the sharecroppers such as Mr. Cunningham and his relatives.
  • After them come the "white trash" comprised of the Ewells and the like.
  • At the bottom of the social pyramid are all black people, or Negroes as they were called at that time.

There are no expectations for the "white trash" and the "Negroes" as they are stereotyped. The other people are expected to be true Southerners, loyal to traditional beliefs, such as those of their religion, social class, and race relations. 

Aunt Alexandra's arrival at the Finch home, for instance, reinforces the social expectations of her family name.  She has Scout wear more appropriate clothing--i.e. dresses--and behave more like a young lady. Alexandra insists that she make the refreshments for the Missionary Tea attended by the ladies of the church, and she encourages Atticus to dismiss Calpurnia because she has too much influence on the children, a condition that is not appropriate for her race. She also forbids Scout to play with Walter Cunningham because he is not "our kind of folks."

"But I want to play with Walter, Aunty, why can't I?"
"Because--he--is--trash, that why you can't play with him.  I'll not have you around him, picking up his habits and learning Lord-knows-what."

Other societal expectations are that the jury of twelve white men must convict Tom Robinson because he entered the house of white people, because he "felt sorry" for Mayella, and no black should ever feel sorry for a white since this pity implies superiority.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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