Evaluate Techniques Used by Harper Lee to Introduce First Impressions of the Town of Maycomb in To Kill a Mockingbird
Although Maycomb is an entirely fictional town Harper Lee creates a realistic feel to it. She does this through a combination of writing and language techniques and through the many perspectives we are privy to throughout the first four chapters. The most commonly used are through the eyes of a six-year-old Scout and an older, reflecting Scout who uses a more mature view to comment on the events as seen through the innocent eyes of a young girl.
Although a child narrator may be a more unconventional approach, Scout's (or Jean-Louise's) perspective is not limited to the naïve voice and vocabulary of a child as Lee's tone suggests a more mature recollection rather than the unfiltered young Scout's version of events. This can be seen clearly when Scout, describing the town, says:
Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it…People moved slowly then…A day was twenty-fours hours but seemed longer.
In addition, Scout's perspective can actually give a uniquely complete picture compared to some other characters. Not only because of her dual perspective, but also because she is often very near the events mentioned due to the fact that she 'lived on the main residential street in town' and because her father, Atticus was the lawyer for some of the townspeople and also 'was related by blood or marriage to nearly every family in town'.
Maycomb is described as being a 'small, isolated, inward looking town' in Alabama where children freely roam around and, often, into other people's backyards and business. As it is such a small town gossip is more than a common occurrence, especially amongst the Maycombian women. Through this we are exposed to more than just Scout's dual perspective; we are shown the opinions and ideals of the town's other inhabitants. Such as Miss Stephanie Crawford when we are told the rumours surrounding the neighbourhood shut-in, Boo Radley:
According to Miss Stephanie…Boo drove the scissors into his parent's leg, pulled them out, wiped them on his pants and resumed his activites.
We are also told about the period that Maycomb is going though during the time the novel is set by such quotes as:
Maycomb County had recently been told it had nothing to fear but fear itself
This was said by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, on the topic of the Wall Street Crash. Maycomb was already awash with poverty, partly shown by one of Scout's earlier descriptions:
There was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with.
But, although Scout's family seem to be better-off than other residents because Atticus is a lawyer rather than 'country folk', Atticus explains to Scout and us why the Crash hit the residents of Maycomb particularly hard:
As Maycomb County was farm country, nickels and dimes were hard to come by for doctors and dentists and lawyers.
Much like in the quote above, Atticus is often the voice of reason and wisdom for both Scout and us and it is he who leads to a greater insight into and understanding of the town and the individual circumstances of those who live within it.
It is shown early on in the book (within the first chapter) that the majority of people who live in Maycomb have lived there all their lives and have a large family network that is often traceable back through several generations. This is shown by the way each character is stereotyped to certain characteristics depending on something as trivial as their surname. Some examples are how the name Haverford was 'a name synonymous with jackass', the Cunninghams 'don't have much, but they get along on it' and the Ewells had been 'the disgrace of Maycomb for three generations'.
A certain amount of prejudice is applied by Maycombians to anybody born and raised outside of Maycomb. This is very much in keep with the small town mindset and is shown in chapter two after Scout's first day of school being taught by Miss Caroline Fisher when Scout brother, Jem says:
'Our teacher says Miss Caroline's introducing a new way of teaching. She learned about it in college.'
This quotation shows the suspicion that Miss Caroline is seen with because of her unusual origins (specifically because she came from a Republican part of North Alabama). Her foreignness is only emphasised by the fact that she doesn't know of or immediately understand the stereotypes applied to each family when Scout tries to explain why Walter Cunningham doesn't have any lunch, and also when she doesn't appreciate that the children of Maycomb's single-minded upbringing makes them 'immune to imaginative literature'. The word 'immune' highlights the mistrust that anything strictly non-Maycombian is faced with. It implies that something that isn't in keep with their way of living is, in their minds, comparative to a disease.
Another thing that Scout's first day at school shows us is how the education in Maycomb is lacking, compared to Miss Caroline's college-taught structure. Not only has the better part of the first grade failed and repeated it multiple times but Burris and several others of the Ewells only attend school on the first day of each year. By them (although their opinion cannot be applied to the whole of the town as they are thought to be a disgrace to Maycomb) education is thought to be so unimportant it is entirely unnecessary.
Overall, Maycomb is a small town with a small mindset where little happens. But we can clearly see a range of prides and prejudices demonstrated by the community that is often fuelled by the influences of idle gossip and rumours. We get the impression that the people and population of the area are static (which could also contribute to the underlying and unchanging prejudices)—not many people leave permanently and newcomers are not so easily accepted.