Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee
Start Free Trial

How does the setting, when it comes to the time, affect the characters in To Kill a Mockingbird? My teacher explained how it could have something to do with education during that time period and how it was a time of poverty. However, I have no other ideas. Basically, how does does the time affect the characters in the book.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This was definitely a time of poverty and racial tension - both of which factor into the story as motivating forces. It was also a time in which America had yet to enter WWII but we were (as was Scout) becoming aware of the existence of a man named Adolf Hitler whose persecution of the Jews has become a forefront in our study of history. However, what we often fail to recognize is the fact that, while here in America we did not send people who were different from the norm to the gas chambers, we still persecuted the. There is a definite parallel that can be drawn between Hitler's treatment of the Jews and American society's treatment of African Americans and the mentally handicapped (as represented by Tom, Helen and Boo).

This was also a time when educational theory was beginning to rear its head. As Miss Caroline scolds Scout for not learning to read the right way, we begin to see the rigidity of an education system that does not take individuality into consideration and tries to make all students conform to what ios the norm. Anyone who is ahead of the class (Scout) or behind (as we can assume Boo was) would be seen as a problem, not as a person.

Racial and social segregation and isolation as well as the viewing of those who are different from the norm (middle class and white) are key elements of the time period that factor heavily into the themes and moral lessons that have made this novel a permanent fixture in the literary canon.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One of the other things about the time period as a setting and how it changes the characters is apparent in how they speak to each other.  Not only are their mannerisms different than what many of us are used to today, but there were actual differences in how to address certain people determined by whether they were related to you or by their age.

For example, someone was almost always referred to with a prefix, whether it was Mr., or Miss or whatever else.  Only certain people were referred to without it and it generally indicated a lack of respect or a lack of position on the part of the person being addressed in such a way.

As the previous post mentioned, you would speak differently to African Americans than you would to white people and to mix them up could mean serious embarassment or create an incident.  These are small things but also things that Harper Lee was very familiar with so they are represented very carefully in the way her characters speak to each other.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team