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To Kill a Mockingbird: Setting & Time Period

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  • 0:00 Setting in ''To Kill a…
  • 0:35 Maycomb, Alabama
  • 2:41 The Tale's Time Period
  • 3:53 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.

The setting of ''To Kill a Mockingbird'' is one of the most important elements of the story. This lesson explores where and when the novel takes place.

Setting in To Kill a Mockingbird

One of the most important aspects of a story or a novel is the setting; in other words, when and where the story takes place. As a reader, why do you need to know these things? The setting sets the stage for the reader. When and where a story takes place influences the ways characters act and behave. It also gives readers valuable insight into character actions and key events in the story. For Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird, setting is a key element that truly influences the entire story.

Maycomb, Alabama

Harper Lee's novel takes place in the sleepy fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, shared through the eyes of narrator Scout Finch. She describes the place where she grew up: 'Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. 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; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square.'

Sounds like a fun place, right? Downtown Maycomb is pretty simple. There's a courthouse and a single-cell jail. Atticus Finch, father of Scout and Jem, has an office where he practices law. There are a few small shops and other assorted office buildings. In essence, Maycomb is the epitome of a one-horse town.

Maycomb County is its own little world. People are relatively unconcerned by what's happening outside of the Maycomb County bubble. The president is Franklin D. Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler is starting to stomp around Europe, but these things have seemingly little bearing on the people in Maycomb. Instead, the 'Maycombites' are far more concerned with what's happening close by. What kind of cake is Miss Maudie baking? Miss Stephanie Crawford said what?! How about those crazy Ewells. . . what are they up to?

Like many other rural towns located in the Deep South, Maycomb has a very distinct social hierarchy. This is reflected by where and how the characters live. Established families like the Finches, Crawfords, Haverfords, and Atkinsons live in a nice residential neighborhood close to downtown Maycomb. Poor families that rely on subsistence farming to survive are scattered across the county in rural communities like 'Old Sarum'. African Americans in Maycomb live in their own separate communities, apart from white citizens. Meanwhile, the Ewells, a white family in their own socioeconomic class, live near the town's dump.

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