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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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What's the tone conveyed in Scout's description of Maycomb, Alabama in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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Tone refers to how the author feels about a topic or story. At the beginning of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout shows how she feels about Maycomb by first describing her ancestor, Simon Finch, who settled twenty miles west of the town. It seems as though she is proud of her ancestor, but also states with great concern the following:  

"Simon would have regarded with impotent fury the disturbance between the North and the South, as it left his descendants stripped of everything but their land"  (4).

If Simon would be disappointed to know that his posterity had nothing more to show for his hard work and wealth than land, then the tone in the above passage reveals a sense of loss. She verbalizes what many in Maycomb feel--that the Civil War is to blame for their poverty. 

Next, Scout describes the town of Maycomb as she remembers it during her childhood in the 1930s. Since the narrator of the book is Scout as an adult, the tone describing Maycomb includes some nostalgia accompanied by melancholy. For example, Scout describes Maycomb as follows:

"Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. . . Somehow, it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer's day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. . . People moved slowly then. They ambled across the square, shuffled in and out of the stores around it, took their time about everything. A day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer" (5).

In the above passage, Scout describes the suffering of animals in the heat and with hunger because they are "bony." The heat and poverty are readily remembered because the South is usually hot and the effects of starvation during the Great Depression include even the smallest of towns. These descriptions not only suggest that the people of Maycomb are poor, but they can't even feed or take care of their animals properly because of it.

Scout's tone seems to be saying that even though life in Maycomb is hard in the 1930s--and Maycomb had its share of suffering--life also seems simpler back then because the pressures of modern life just don't exist. For instance, people "shuffled" along and the days seemed longer than twenty-four hours. In addition, she mentions that the courthouse "sagged in the square," which not only symbolizes how people feel living in the heat but also alludes to the lack of funds to renovate it (5). 

In summary, the author's tone describing Maycomb feels nostalgic, but there is also a sense of melancholy for the suffering that the town goes through because of the annual heat and because of widespread poverty. As a result, life seemed to drag on more slowly then. 

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