Places: To Kill a Mockingbird

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1960

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Bildungsroman

Time of work: Mid-1930’s

Places DiscussedMaycomb

Maycomb. To Kill a MockingbirdSeat of Alabama’s fictional Maycomb County, located twenty miles east of Finch’s Landing. Through its citizens from professional, middle, and lower classes, Harper Lee analyzes the values and problems common in small southern towns during the Great Depression. Scout learns from Atticus to reject the racial and social prejudices of the town without hating its inhabitants. By walking in the shoes of others both before and after the Tom Robinson trial, she respects Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose, who is determined to cure her morphine addiction before dying, and she appreciates Judge Taylor, Sheriff Tate, and farmer Link Deas, all of whom try to give Tom Robinson as fair a trial as possible in Maycomb.

Radley place

Radley place. Home of Arthur (Boo) Radley and his family; located near Atticus Finch’s home. Community rumors about the seclusion of Boo in his home and about his violent actions provide mystery and excitement for Scout, Jem, and Dill during their summers. Actually seeing Boo or enticing him to leave his dark, isolated home becomes a goal for the children and a lesson in tolerance and acceptance. Through the gifts they find in the hollow tree in the Radley yard, they learn of Boo’s tentative attempts at friendship with them. When Boo saves their lives by killing Bob Ewell in the woods behind the school, they learn to respect his privacy and his desire to remain hidden from the probing eyes of the community.

Schoolhouse

Schoolhouse. School attended by the Finch children. By having children from the town and from the rural community in the same classes, Lee shows the various social classes in the county and how all have learned to live together. Miss Caroline Fisher, Scout’s first-grade teacher, is considered an outsider because she is from Clanton in northern Alabama. She does not understand the social caste system of her students, and her new educational practices appear impractical to her students.

Courthouse

Courthouse. Government building in the town square in which Tom Robinson is tried for murder. The architecture of this building symbolizes the strong ties of the town to the past and its unwillingness to change. After fire destroyed the original classical structure, its massive columns were retained while a Victorian clock tower was added. This symbolizes the town’s acceptance of change only as a result of a conflagration and its attempt to preserve the past as completely as possible.

Having the black residents sit in the balcony of the courtroom during the Robinson trial stresses the physical and social segregation of the races. In contrast, having Scout, Jem, and Dill accepted by Reverend Sykes in the balcony also symbolizes the hope that the young generation of white southerners will be able to see both blacks and whites differently as they grow up. On the courthouse grounds during the trial, Scout and Dill learn from Dolphus Raymond that his false drunkenness is only a ruse he assumes in order to provide the community with an excuse for his living with a black wife and fathering children of mixed blood.

Finch’s Landing

Finch’s Landing. Town in which Atticus Finch grew up. Located on the banks of the Alabama River, it was begun in the early nineteenth century by Atticus’s ancestor, Simon Finch, an immigrant from England, and remained the home of the Finch family until Atticus left to study law in Montgomery, Alabama, and his younger brother, Jack, left to study medicine in Boston. Their sister Alexandra continued to live there with her husband. The small town provides a strong sense of history and family within which Scout and Jem grow up. Although they only visit there, each child understands how their current home is an extension of the values and beliefs in which Atticus, Uncle Jack, and Aunt Alexandra were raised. Neither Atticus nor Jack returns to Finch’s Landing to live because the town is too small to support their professions, and each seems to disregard many of the mores espoused there as shown through the actions of Aunt Alexandra.

Sources for Further StudyAltman, Dorothy Jewell. Harper Lee. Detroit: Gale Research, 1980. A concise examination of the novel’s themes and symbolism. Treats the work as a regional novel with a universal message.Beidler, Philip D. “Introduction: Alabama Flowering II.” In The Art of Fiction in the Heart of Dixie: An Anthology of Alabama Writers, edited by Philip D. Beidler. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1986.Betts, Doris. Introduction to Southern Women Writers: The New Generation, edited by Tonette Bond Inge. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1990.Champion, Laurie. “Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.” The Explicator 61, no. 4 (2003): 234-236. Examines the connotations of right and left used within the novel and surmises that characters such as Atticus, Tom, and Jem, who all have healthy right body parts, represent moral virtue, while Mayella and Bob, who have healthy left body parts, represent moral inequity.Dave, R. A. “To Kill a Mockingbird: Harper Lee’s Tragic Vision.” In Indian Studies in American Literature, edited by M. K. Naik et al. Dharwar, India: Karnatak University, 1974. Dave provides an interesting discussion of the history of the mockingbird as a symbol of innocence and joy in American literature. He draws parallels between To Kill a Mockingbird and Walt Whitman’s poem “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking.” Dave also explores how Lee, like Jane Austen, evokes a regional place yet makes it a macrocosm describing a range of human behavior.Erisman, Fred. “The Romantic Regionalism of Harper Lee.” Alabama Review 26 (April, 1973): 122-136. Examines Maycomb as a microcosm of the South, having within itself the potential to move from reliance on tradition to reliance on principle and to join the larger world without loss of regional identity.Going, William T. “Store and Mockingbird: Two Pulitzer Novels About Alabama.” In Essays on Alabama Literature. University: University of Alabama Press, 1975. Contains a good discussion on Lee’s use of point of view to relate the story’s themes in a fresh manner. Going also discusses Lee’s ties to the other new Southern writers who emerged in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.Johnson, Claudia. “Secret Courts of Men’s Hearts: Code and Law in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.” Studies in Fiction 19, no. 2 (1991): 129-139. Johnson gives an excellent overview of the history of racial conflicts in Alabama during the 1930’s, when the novel is set, and conflicts in the late 1950’s, when the novel was being written, that Harper Lee drew upon for the trial of Tom Robinson.Johnson, Claudia Durst. Understanding “To Kill a Mockingbird”: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historic Documents. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994. Offers literary analysis, historical context, critical studies, and discussion of censorship issues.Petry, Alice Hall. On Harper Lee: Essays and Reflections. Knoxville: Tennessee University, 2007. This volume offers eleven original essays on To Kill a Mockingbird, covering topics such as racism, social class, and religion. The durability and popularity of the novel are also discussed, along with Lee’s characterization and ability to create humor and humanity in the text.Rubin, Louis D., Jr., ed. The History of Southern Literature. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1985. A brief history of Harper Lee’s place among the new Southern writers such as Capote, Welty, Styron, and McCullers. Rubin discusses how the new writers reflect on the past yet look toward the future, explore the plight of the black man in the South, and focus on portrayals of the new type of Southerner–the liberal who is in conflict with his or her environment because of an awareness of racism.Schuster, Edgar H. “Discovering Theme and Structure in the Novel.” English Journal 52 (October, 1963): 506-511. Deals with the elements of theme and structure in To Kill a Mockingbird, identifying and illustrating five thematic motifs.Shaffer, Thomas L. “Christian Lawyer Stories and American Legal Ethics.” Mercer Law Review 33, no. 3 (Spring, 1982): 877-901. Positioning Atticus as a heroic Christian lawyer, Shaffer discusses Atticus’s ability to be moral and good while performing his duties as an attorney.Shaffer, Thomas L. “The Moral Theology of Atticus Finch.” In To Kill a Mockingbird, edited by Terry O’Neill. New York: Greenhaven Press, 2000. Shaffer, in an article that originally appeared in the University of Pittsburgh Law Review in 1981, argues that Atticus is a hero because he has a sense of moral integrity that exposed the values of Maycomb’s citizens.Warshaw, Thayer S. “Teaching the Bible as Literature.” English Journal 58, no. 4 (April, 1969): 571-576. Warshaw maintains that English teachers can employ several approaches to teaching the Bible, including teaching various Bible stories, people, and events referenced in literary works such as To Kill a Mockingbird.
Categories: Places