Disparities in Maycomb’s Expectations of its Citizens

Throughout the first half of To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout is repeatedly told and reminded how to behave from those in charge of her such as Atticus and Calpurnia. However, this does not come without her recognition that not all people in Maycomb Country are held to the same behavioral expectations in society that Atticus places upon her. Whether or not she understands these disparities is situational for each instance in which some one else appears to conduct themselves in a manner contrary to how Atticus demands she act, for Scout, the narrator, is only a young girl and it becomes obvious that while the reader may understand the differences in how people behave or are expected to behave, Scout only understands the reasoning behind a few of these cases.  

              Specific groups of people or even families have different societal expectations than others. Some of the first recognizable instances of this in To Kill a Mockingbird come during Scout’s first day of school. Her teacher, Miss Caroline, an outsider to Maycomb County, becomes informed to one of the different societal norms regarding different families within the country when she offers Walter Cunningham a quarter for lunch with the stipulation that he pays her back the next day. Scout then explains that the Cunninghams do not take what they cannot pay back, one of the widely know differences classified by last name in the Maycomb. However, when one of the Ewell boys decides to cut class and not come back for the remainder of the year, Scout does not immediately understand why this is acceptable for him and not her. Atticus later explains that, “In certain circumstances the common folk judiciously allowed (Ewells) certain privileges by simple method of becoming blind to some of the Ewell’s activities. They didn’t have to go to school, for one thing. Another thing, Mr. Bob Ewell… was permitted to hunt and trap out of season,” (Lee 34). It becomes evident to Scout that certain people are permitted by society to behave differently than herself because of their life’s circumstances, but even so, it still seems unfair to her that she be required to go to school and not the Ewells. Scout eventually comes to realize through many other instances that not all people must abide by the same rules, whether they be law or moral code, that Atticus makes her follow. Along with the Cunninghams and Ewells who do not act in the way Scout must, Mrs. Dubose can say degrading remarks because she is old and crazy by Atticus’s reasoning. Also among the differences in people’s behaviors that Scout observes in the first half of the novel is Calpurnia’s ability to manipulate her style of speaking whether she is in the company of whites or blacks. These differences and how Scout perceives each instance is worth noting to understand Scout’s maturation and development as a citizen of Maycomb

              The disparities in people’s behavioral expectations in Maycomb can be traced back to various reasons; socio-economic status, family name, age, and race. While Scout does not immediately present the capability to deduce the reasoning for why all of this is, Atticus and the reader certainly do. It will be interesting to see how Scout adapts to this and if she comes to understand why Atticus makes her behave differently than others in Maycomb county.

2 thoughts on “Disparities in Maycomb’s Expectations of its Citizens”

  1. You are right to point to the *myriad* reasons given for family/clan differences in Maycomb. It strikes me that the novel doesn’t necessarily want to commit to tracing those reasons through all the way or privileging one reason over another (nature/nurture). What do you think?

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  2. Miss Caroline is a character I wish we would’ve gotten more context on. At first you hate her, for being a Yankee and being so rude to Scout, but then she genuinely seems to wish she could do something about all the disparities you discussed in Maycomb. Obviously by the end of the novel there are large problems with the Ewells and the Cunninghams, but I felt sorry for both of the children in the schoolhouse. They might be dirty or mean respectively, but they were born into families that refuse to change, for better or worse. Even trying to be the smallest bit of help to them got Miss Caroline basically excommunicated by her class. That part kind of illuminated why the South had such a problem during Reconstruction; these were (and are) people very much stuck in their ways, and stuck in their own way.

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