In To Kill a Mockingbird, when in real life was "Nothing to fear but fear itself" announced by Franklin Delano Roosevelt?

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laurniko eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the President of the United States from 1933 to 1945, made the speech Scout refers to on March 4, 1933. Since Scout refers to the speech as a recent event, it helps a reader know when the events of To Kill a Mockingbird take place.

When describing Maycomb, where Scout and her family live, Lee writes:

A day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County. But it was a time of vague optimism for some of the people: Maycomb County had recently been told that it had nothing to fear but fear itself.

She's explaining that the town is slow and boring to some but that there's a positive attitude. Scout says that it's an old town, a hot town, and that she lives on the main residential street with her family. Even though Maycomb seems almost depressing, being told that they have nothing to fear but fear itself has enlivened and inspired the population a bit.

The phrase "nothing to fear but fear itself" refers to a speech made by Roosevelt. He said:

I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impel. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.

According to History Matters from George Mason University, Roosevelt took the presidency when the Great Depression was at its worst. He was telling the country that despite trials and tribulations, the only truly scary thing is the feeling of fear. He meant that fear can keep people from rising to meet their challenges.

Scout refers to the speech to show that Maycomb was bolstered by Roosevelt's inauguration and address.

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator


In chapter 1 of the novel, Scout alludes to President Frankin Delano Roosevelt's First Inaugural Address by saying, "Maycomb County had recently been told that it had nothing to fear but fear itself" (Lee, 6).

Roosevelt gave his First Inaugural Address on Saturday, March 4, 1933. Roosevelt addressed the nation's economic concerns as the country continued to struggle through The Great Depression. He offered American citizens hope by reassuring them that "the only thing we have to fear is . . . fear itself." President Roosevelt then proceeded to place the blame on the greedy, shortsighted bankers and businessmen, who were responsible for the economic crisis. The president then assured the country that he would act swiftly to turn the tide of the nation and reverse the economic crash.

Following President Roosevelt's famous speech, millions of Ameican citizens were left with a sense of hope and optimism, which is what Scout is referring to in chapter 1. Scout's minor allusion provides the reader with an accurate idea of the setting and political climate of the story.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) uttered this famous quote during his First Inaugural Address on March 4, 1933. The expression "We have nothing to fear but fear itself" is actually a misquote, and not what Roosevelt actually said. Roosevelt's quote was

"... the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

Roosevelt was no doubt referring to the nation's dismal economic condition during the midst of the Great Depression, trying to instill a bit of hope during the hard times faced by Americans. Roosevelt may have borrowed this line from Sir Francis Bacon, who once said,

"There is nothing to fear but fear."

It was misquoted by Martin Luther King in his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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