What are some historical references in To Kill A Mockingbird, and how do they affect Scout, Jem, Atticus, Boo Radley, and Calpurnia?Please help me, I really don't understand how any historical...

What are some historical references in To Kill A Mockingbird, and how do they affect Scout, Jem, Atticus, Boo Radley, and Calpurnia?

Please help me, I really don't understand how any historical references I have come up with (such as the Great Depression, the KKK, and the election of President Roosevelt) have anything to do with the characters or how they affect them.

Asked on by cbelisario

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In the exposition of To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee introduces the setting of the Great Depression, especially in Chapter Two in the passage in which Scout asks her father if they are as poor as the Cunninghams.  Atticus tells her that professional people are poor because the farmers are poor and cannot pay them for their services.  This is why Mr. Cunningham pays Atticus in potatoes; the little cash that he has goes towards paying the mortgage on his farm because Mr. Cunningham is too proud to take a government aid job provided by President Roosevelt's W.P.A. program (Works Progress Administration). The Ewells, by contrast, are not too proud to receive Relief checks and not work.  This contrast reveals much about the character of Mr. Cunningham and Mr. Ewell.

The allusion to the K.K.K. suggests the Jim Crow South in which Tom Robinson is tried.  His trial, in fact, reflects the real life one of Emmett Till in which white men, tried before an all white jury, were acquitted of killing a black boy.  In the reverse situation, Tom Robinson, also tried by an all-white male jury in the Jim Crow South stands little chance of an acquittal.  The criticism and hatred toward Atticus is a reflection of the conventional thinking of the time.  Atticus is labeled a "n---lover."

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