Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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What unwritten social codes exist in the society in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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The most obvious social codes involve African Americans. No blacks live in the downtown area of Maycomb; they are segregated in the Quarters outside of town. There are separate churches for whites and blacks, and the school which Jem and Scout attend is no doubt segregated; in fact, there is no mention of a school for Maycomb's black children. At Calpurnia's church, most of the congregation shows polite deference to Jem and Scout: It is in part because they are guests at the church, but it is also because such behavior is expected. Blacks are not usually welcome in a white person's house unless they are employees, like Cal and Sophy. Tom is hesitant to go inside the Ewell house, and Scout mentions during the trial that no "respectable Negro" would enter a white man's yard without permission. Before the trial, the Negroes wait until all of the white people have entered the courtroom; they enter afterward and must sit separately in the balcony. During the trial, Tom is always careful to address Atticus and Gilmer as "sir"; however, Gilmer repeatedly calls Tom "boy," an act which receives no objections from either Atticus or the judge. The Ewells charge Tom with rape in part because of the embarrassment Bob and Mayella may receive if it is found that she tried to seduce Tom. Dolphus Raymond is scorned because of his preference for Negro friends and women. His "mixed chillun"

"... don't belong anywhere. Colored folks won't have 'em 'cause they're half white; white folks won't have 'em 'cause they're colored, so they're just in-betweens..."

Other standard practices of the time which are not mentioned in the story are segregated restaurants, bathrooms, hotels and, sometimes, businesses.

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Racism is certainly the most obvious social injustice explored in To Kill a Mockingbird. White man's law ruled during the Depression-era Deep South: Jim Crow laws legally restricted the rights of African Americans, and in the segregated society of the time, whites and blacks rarely interacted socially. In Maycomb, the local school is for whites-only; there is no mention of a school for black children. Black citizens must wait until all of the white folks are seated in the courtroom before they can enter, and even then they must sit separately in the balcony. Black people must always address white people with respect, using  "mister," "miss" or "missus" at all times. Most of the African American characters in the novel toe the line, silently enduring their place at the bottom of Maycomb's social ladder. They understand the severe consequences that might arise should they anger the wrong white man. Women's rights laws are still in their infancy in 1930s Alabama, and men dominated political and business matters. Women were not allowed to serve on juries, and black women were not allowed to vote. Children's rights are also an issue: Jem and Scout are automatically blamed by the superstitious Mr. Avery for the bad weather that hits Maycomb; and the Ewell children are victims of the dark side of parenting. Atticus and Miss Maudie are about the...

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only adults who don't talk down to the children.Mental illness is an important theme, thanks to the ever-present but rarely seen Boo Radley. He is allowed to be taken by his father and imprisoned within the Radley house, turning a restless teen into a withdrawn "phantom." Boo, the son of an old Maycomb family, is soon the most gossiped about man in town. Feared by most of the people, he is merely misunderstood--a man who prefers to see the world outside at night when there are no people around. Boo is also an outsider, and people who are different (or who come from outside southern Alabama) are feared and mistrusted.   

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In To Kill a Mockingbird, what are the unwritten social codes that Atticus adheres to in his life?

Understand first of all that there are many "unwritten social codes" that most characters adhere to in the story (and historically would have adhered to if they were real people).  Ironically, Atticus does not act like most of the other characters.  His social codes are far different from the social codes of most people.

For one thing, he is the arguably one of the the least prejudiced characters in the story.  He teaches his children how to respect everyone equally.  One unwritten social code of that time was to respect people according to social "levels."  Prejudice was not limited to race alone.  It was also related to education, perceived "wealth," family relations, and land ownership.  Through Atticus' teaching, Jem and Scout are able to understand and observe the differences among the different social classes, but Atticus teaches them to go against the social codes that tell them to look down on people who are different.

Another unwritten social code of that time would have told him to stay away from the Tom Robinson trial.  He takes it and fights it fairly, to the best of his ability.  In a way, he is choosing to follow a legal social code (one that lawyers and judges should be abiding by) to hold up the law and provide the best defense he can for his client.

On the other hand, Atticus does do a few things that would have been considered adhering to unwritten social codes.  First, in the absence of a wife/mother, he hires Calpurnia, an older black woman, to take care of his kids and household matters.  It was probably more appropriate to do this than to hire a white woman.  He teaches his children to respect her, as well as all other adults, simply because they are older.  This was a social code of the time that is no longer prominent today.

Also, he allows his sister (Aunt Alexandra) to come for a while in order to provide a maternal influence for the children.  Again, it would have been a common practice to send in for family help in the Finch's situation with the trial.  Finally, in the chapter where Dill shows up unexpectedly, Atticus allows him to stay.  He is abiding by an unwritten social code here to provide some paternal influence for a child who does not have a relationship with a father.

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