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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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What are the social/economic levels in the story To Kill a Mockingbird?

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You may have noticed that there are no abundantly wealthy people mentioned who live in To Kill a Mockingbird's Maycomb. An attorney as capable as Atticus would probably be quite wealthy in the 21st century, but Atticus barely got by in the 1930s--taking trade goods for services rendered, and serving as the town's representative in the Alabama legislature. Although Atticus can afford a housekeeper, Scout and Jem have few luxuries. Both seem happy when they have a few coins in their pockets; books, magazines and comics seem to be their most valued possessions. Perhaps the wealthiest man of all is Dolphus Raymond, who owns land along the river and a prospering business in spite of his self-banishment from the white community.

Unsurprisingly, the Negroes (and Ewells) are on the bottom of the Maycomb socioeconomic ladder. For example, we know that Sophy, Mrs. Merriweather's maid, makes a "dollar and a quarter every week"--that's somewhere between 20 and 25 cents per day--less than a nickel per hour. The Cunninghams of Old Sarum are farmers who are cash-poor but who do have food to put on their tables. Many of the Finches' neighbors board rooms in their homes: Miss Caroline boards with Miss Maudie and Mr. Avery is a boarder. One wonders how they make ends meet (perhaps, like Miss Maudie, the other ladies--Miss Stephanie and Miss Rachel, for instance--have inherited their homes from their parents or deceased husbands).

As Scout reminds us,

People moved slowly then... There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy, and no money to buy it with... But it was a time of vague optimism for some of the people.

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