The foundation upon which a persons character is built is first and foremost their family line and upbringing. In the 1930’s during the depression the size and quality of a family tree was the main determining factor for one’s placement on the social ladder. Family is destiny in Maycomb County. While on the one hand this may be limiting, because there’s no way for a person to be different from their parents, on the other, it allows people to indulge themselves without being judged because general opinion is that they can’t help themselves.
Scout narrates … o 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: never take a check from a Delafield without a discreet call to the bank; Miss Maudie Atkinson’s shoulder stoops because she was a Buford; if Mrs. Grace Merriweather sips gin out of Lydia E. Pinkham bottles it’s nothing unusual – her mother did the same. (Lee 31). Generation after generation the families of Maycomb had gained reputations for themselves that future offspring would not be able to shake.
The dictum had been imprinted into the genetically code of the different families becoming part of the upbringing of future generations. Every person in Maycomb had been classified and judged based on the actions of the past generations. In Maycomb County there aren’t a lot of well educated people. Scout for example is penalized on her first day of the first grade for being able to read and write. When Scout and Jem , after having been taught by Alexandra that the background of a family member should be the sole point on which he or she is judged, they decide to try and decipher the meaning of background that is when Jem says. ‘Background doesn’t mean Old Family,’ said Jem. ‘I think it’s how long your family’s been readin’ and writin’. Scout, I’ve studied this real hard and that’s the only reason I can think of'” (Lee 226-227). Jem’s focus on literacy here may have some truth to it. Literacy means education, which means having a certain class and wealth status. There is also a pride that comes to a family who have assets that make them better than the others. Throughout the years families pass down those assets and once again it becomes part of the upbringing of the generations and gives the opportunity to be judged in a positive light.
Maycomb has a very family- based social system. Therefore when the family learns about Atticus’s defending of a Negro they all become very concerned with how the public may view the whole family. Francis one of Scout’s many cousins quotes Aunt Alexandra in saying “‘Just what I said. Grandma says it’s bad enough he lets you all run wild, but now he’s turned out a nigger-lover we’ll never be able to walk the streets of Maycomb agin. He’s ruinin’ the family, that’s what he’s doin'” (Lee 83). Here family becomes an excuse for telling others what to do.
In all fairness there is no real reason as to why Atticus’s behaviour should reflect on the rest of his family, but once again they are in Maycomb a town that bases its social classes mainly on heritage and family line so in this setting Aunt Alexandra’s concern for the plummet of the Finches’ popularity is well founded. Family in the 1930’s was shown to be solely based on the public opinion of the individual. Your family members actions no matter from what time period became your own and you were judged accordingly.
If the judgement and classifying of people based on heritage is any indication of the twisted ways of the social class system classifying by race will only further prove the way this system has negatively corrupted the people of this earth. Although there is an abundant diversity throughout the races of the world people of different ethnic backgrounds have always been able to socially classify one another based on race. Specifically in the 1930’s , but even long before that time period the races have been in a struggle for equality and it has caused nothing but destruction to the people of this world.
Lula a character found in the book To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is an excellent example of the awareness that people have of the segregation that takes place between the social classes. At this time the ‘negroes’ are used to being treated like docile lambs, humbly grateful whenever the white characters bother to treat them like the human beings they are. Lula is the one exception, the single angry voice suggesting that the Finch children’s appearance at the First Purchase Church is an invasion rather than a blessing.
When she says, “You ain’t got no business bringin’ white chillun here, they got their church, we got our’n. It is our church, ain’t it, Miss Cal? ” (Lee 119) she is quickly quieted by Calpurnia. Lula has never met these children but immediately becomes defensive at the site of them classifying them into the “threatening whites” category. Although blacks are a race who has gone through its fair share of prejudging, and stereotyping that doesn’t stop them from retaliating and doing the same to their oppressors.
Throughout the social classes there is not only partition between the ethnic groups, but also within them. Calpurnia the Finch family cook, maid, and nanny has been living with the Finch family for many years. Due to this she has been able to gain their impressive level of eduation. When she brings Scout and Jem to her First Purchase Church an all black church the kids begin to notice and difference in her attitude. Scout and em do not understand why Calpurnia is speaking to the other church goers in a less refined manner.
Calpurnia the explains, “Suppose you and Scout talked colored-folks’ talk at home it’d be out of place, wouldn’t it? Now what if I talked white-folks’ talk at church, and with my neighbors? They’d think I was puttin’ on airs to beat Moses” ( Lee 126). Her explanation of her “double life” is that sometimes conformity to what everyone else is doing makes more sense. Calpurnia is in a way better than some of the other parishioners classifying her on a higher scale than those who were not able to get the education she did.
Now even though Calpurnia can act just like the “white folk” that doesn’t mean she is classified like one because of her skin colour her social classification is lower. During the 1930’s no matter how much evidence proved their innocence Negros were always seen as guilty. Atticus Finch a lawyer renowned through the streets of Maycomb for his incredible lust for justice is now defending a negro (Tom Robinson) who has been unrightfully accused of raping a Mayella Ewell.
Even though Mayella is part of the poorest lowest, untrustworthy, trash of a family it is common knowledge that she will most likely win the trial simply because Maycomb will do anything to protect the imae of their white southern women. At the end of the trial, while Atticus is appealing to a common humanity over conflict-ridden racial stereotypes, he calls out the prosecution for arguing that Tom’s blackness is itself evidence of his guilt saying
The witnesses for the state, with the exception of the sheriff of Maycomb County, have presented themselves to you gentlemen, to this court, in the cynical confidence that their testimony would not be doubted, confident that you gentlemen would go along with them on the assumption – the evil assumption – that all Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings, that all Negro men are not to be trusted around our women, an assumption one associates with minds of their caliber. (Lee 204).
He (Atticus) understands that Tom has already been categorized into the typical satin like image of a black man, but still tried to adhere to his one chance of proving tom’s innocence and saving his life. Albeit the jury knows in their hearts that Tom is innocent since all the evidence proves it, once again skin color gets mixed into the equation and ruins all his chances. Race will most likely always be a huge factor when it comes to judging people in society, but one day the struggle for social equality throughout the races might become less of a burden on society.
If there is any social outcast that can somewhat relate to those being classified by race it is women. Women have been fighting for as long as history can recall, to prove their equality in society. During the 1930’s women had not yet gained acceptance as real individuals in society. To Scout Finch who grew up without much of a female influence boys have always been easier to deal with. At this time in history women were known to be prissy, to stay home and, watch after the kids, gossip, and keep the home in order.
Scout Finch having mostly just jem as her main source of entertainment has built up a status quo. That she in the eyes of Jem is pretty much a man. That’s why it is no surprise when Jem referring to the insults Miss Dubose a bitter dying old neighbors ad just thrown at Scout says, “Don’t pay any attention to her, just hold your head high and be a gentleman” (Lee 104). This is the flip side of Jem’s putting down of girls. Being a gentleman seems to signify honor in a way being a lady doesn’t.
Men have always been considered to be alpha to the women. No matter what they do women are classed as fragile helpless creatures that need to lean on a man for every single little thing. Until now, being a girl has been what happens when Scout fails to live up to Jem’s standards of what a person should be, but when she watches Calpurnia at work on her many tasks she starts to realize that there is more to being a women than what society says. Slowly Scout starts to develop an understanding and respect for the women in her life.
For a long time scout has thought that Calpurnia was only out to get her but along with her understanding for women she has a new understanding for her main female influence. One day while strolling through the kitchen she narrates, “(Calpurnia) seemed glad to see me when I appeared in the kitchen, and by watching her I began to think there was some skill involved in being a girl” (Lee 117). Watching Calpurnia, Scout realizes she might actually have to learn some things if she does want to be a girl, and that being a girl might even have some value.
Once again Scout is being introduced to a whole knew view of women, a view that lacks the influence of society. Something that is apparent in this time period is the protectiveness that Maycomb has for their public appearance. This first becomes obvious during the Tom Robinson’s trial because society cannot yet accept that a white southern women would be attracted to a black man Maycomb defends the wrong person to preserve the image of their women.
Aticuss Finch is a respectful man to all, but when it comes to adhering to the thought that all women need to be protected no matter what he does not find that right. He has grown up with a group of very strong women and it is for that reason that he would rather them be treated fairly than put ahead human rights and letting a man die. In saying “… in favor of South womanhood as much as anybody, but not for preserving polite fiction at the expense of human life,” a pronouncement that made me suspect they had been fussing again ” (15. 9) he implies that Southern Womenhood is not real that it is a “polite fiction” assigned to making the women of the south feel special. He penalizes the social class system for giving woment the impression that because society pins them as helpless creatures they are exactly that and should always no matter the situation be protected. In keeping with tradition there will always be diverse forms of discriminations but at some point someone must win the fight and history must go on after having catalogued the classes of the past.