Maycomb County, Alabama, in To Kill a Mockingbird

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  • 0:03 Fact or Fiction?
  • 0:37 Setting the Stage
  • 2:09 Maycombites
  • 3:06 Social Hierarchy in Maycomb
  • 4:24 Microcosm for the Deep South
  • 5:23 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

If you've ever read 'To Kill a Mockingbird', you're intimately familiar with its setting...but how much do you really know about Maycomb County? This lesson explores the history, social structure, and significance of Maycomb County, Alabama.

Fact or Fiction?

If you've ever looked at a map of the state of Alabama, you may have noticed major counties like Baldwin, Elmore, or Monroe. But what about Maycomb County, the setting of To Kill a Mockingbird? You may be surprised to find that Maycomb County cannot be found on a map. That would be because Maycomb County is the product of author Harper Lee's delightful imagination. Though the quaint small town, with its rural setting and colorful citizens, seems quite like your average locale in the Deep South, the fictional Maycomb County is actually much more than that.

Setting the Stage

Maycomb County and the town of Maycomb, the county seat, are really two of the first characters that the reader gets to know. You're likely thinking to yourself, 'But Maycomb County is the setting, not a character!' While that fact is very true, Maycomb County and the town of Maycomb have as large a role in shaping the course of the story as individuals like Scout Finch, Atticus Finch, Boo Radley, Tom Robinson, and Bob Ewell.

Scout Finch shares with readers right off the bat, 'Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it.' How old is old? Harper Lee does not share an exact date, but it's safe to assume that the general Maycomb County area has been inhabited since before the 1820s. Scout explains that the first Finch arrived in the general area as a follower of Andrew Jackson during the Creek War.

What else do readers know about Maycomb? Well, 'In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square. Somehow it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer's day. . . Men's stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three o'clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.' Based on Scout's description you know that Maycomb is a hot and humid place. The buildings, animals, and people all seem to sag a bit in the oppressive climate. You'll soon find out that the weather is not the only oppressive thing in Maycomb County.

Maycombites

The locals of Maycomb County are referred to fondly as Maycombites. Most, if not all, of them have lived in Maycomb County from the day they were born and fully intend to stay there until the day they die. After all, there was, '. . .nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County.' Maycomb County is fairly isolated from the rest of the planet. People are largely unconcerned about what happens in the rest of Alabama, let alone the United States or the world at large.

And who could blame them? Maycombites have a simple, practiced routine. Everyone knows everyone else's family history and their personal business. Scout sums up the town fairly succinctly: '. . . No Crawford Minds His Own Business, Every Third Merriweather Is Morbid, The Truth Is Not in the Delafields, All the Bufords Walk Like That, were simply guides to daily living. . .' Life in Maycomb County is comfortable. It's predictable. It seems to be pretty great, but. . .

Social Hierarchy in Maycomb

Beneath the apparently pleasant surface of the charming corner of Alabama is a fairly dark truth: Maycomb County is deeply divided and deeply racist. Like other parts of the Deep South, Maycomb County has a very strict social hierarchy. People are grouped together by status, education, income, family breeding, and of course, race.

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