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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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How is the social hierarchy geographically shown in To Kill a Mockingbird?

The social hierarchy of Maycomb and its surrounding areas is shown geographically as highly segregated by race and class, with nonwhite and poor people mostly living outside the town proper.

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In the first chapter of To Kill a Mockingbird, narrator Scout Finch explains the physical organization of her hometown, Maycomb, Alabama. She begins with her own upper-middle-class, white neighborhood, where she and her brother, Jem, live with their attorney father, Atticus, in a spacious house. The family’s housekeeper, Calpurnia, is African American. In a later chapter, Scout describes going to services in the church to which Calpurnia belongs. The church is located in the Quarters, the African American community where Calpurnia lives, which is on the outskirts of Maycomb. Scout and Jem have never been in Calpurnia’s home.

As the county seat, Maycomb, has a courthouse and public square. It is apparently somewhat larger than other towns in the county. Its downtown includes stores and restaurants. Within the town, less affluent people live farther from the square. There are apparently limited options for middle-class people with limited income, such as teachers. The first-grade teacher boards with the Finches’s neighbor, Miss Maudie.

While Atticus is fully aware of the class divisions among whites, he rarely initiates discussion of these distinctions. His sister, Scout’s Aunt Alexandra, is more vocal; she uses words such as “trash” to label poor white people. Poor families such as the Ewell family live outside the town, past the dump. Even farther out are small farms, most of which are not thriving during the Depression. The Cunningham family farms a small plot, but it is tied up in legal battles over its ownership. There is only one school, located in central Maycomb, to which these children must travel. Scout becomes friends with her classmate Walter Cunningham, but explains that the Ewell children do not attend school.

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