How does the author use minor characters to explore some of the main concerns of To Kill a Mockingbird?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Early in the narrative, Scout presents a history of Macomb and a description of her street and its residents as well as of her class at school. From these depictions, the reader discerns that there is a rather intricate social balance in Maycomb as a typical Southern town of the 1930s. In fact, those who do not fit into this balance, find themselves ostracized or deprecated. Through this social balance in the Maycomb community, Harper Lee explores important concerns of her novel.


1. Miss Caroline, Scout's teacher, is from Winston County, Alabama--a county that did not vote for secession in the 1860s.  As one who has moved from one end of the state to the other, she is unfamiliar with Maycomb and its customs and residents. Consequently, she mishandles Burris Ewell and other students, and Scout forms an opinion of her that her father must dispel by explaining that it is important to consider things from another's point of view.

2. Aunt Alexandra wants Calpurnia dismissed because she oversteps her role as maid. She will not allow Calpurnia to prepare the refreshments for the Missionary Society Tea.  Aunt Alexandra also holds with the Maycomb caste system,

...the older citizens, the present generation of people who had lived side by side for years and years, were utterly predictable to one another:  they took for granted attitudes, character shadings, even gestures, as hahving been repeated in each generation and refined by time. Thus, no Crawford Minds His Own Business.... 

3.  Mayella Ewell, a resident of Maycomb who is considered "white trash" falsely accuses Tom Robinson of rape. Even though her testimony does not support the evidence, the jury convicts the innocent Tom.


1. Mr. Dolphus Raymond is a man from "a good family," but he breaks from social mores by living with a black woman and having "mixed" children.  Because he is from an upperclass family, the townspeople find it difficult to reject him as they would a lower class person, so he fosters a reputation as an alcoholic in order to provide the townspeople with an "excuse" for his socially unacceptable behavior. Thus, Mr. Raymond's character points to the hypocrisy of the upper class of Maycomb.

2. Mrs. Merriweather, who attends the Missionary Society's tea speaks of the saintly J. Grimes Everett who works for her church in Africa; further, she tells the others at the gathering that she is behind Mr. Everett "one hundred per cent." Yet, she berates her maid Sophy and says she would fire her if she does not stop complaining. In addition, she uncharitably alludes to Atticus by saying,

"I tell you, there are some good, but misguided people in this town. Good, but misguided."

This not of hypocrisy is too much for Miss Maudie, who sarcastically mocks her.

3. Mayella Ewell, a social pariah among whites, falsely accuses Tom Robinson of rape and perjures herself while she is on the witness stand even though the kind-hearted Tom has aided her and talked to her on several occasions.


1. Mr. Dolphus's conversations with the children, demonstrate his sobriety. He is an objective thinker and a compassionate one, at that.  When Dill cries, Mr. Dolphus consoles him and remarks that only children hold the sensitivity to understand the cruelty of society.  Thus, he helps Scout and Jem perceive the flaws in their town.

2. Mr. Underwood, know to dislike blacks, also demonstrates objectivity with his editorial about the "sinful killing" of Tom.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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