Life and Religion in To Kill a Mockingbird

Life and Religion in To Kill a Mockingbird

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In the book ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ written by Harper Lee in 1960, life in the town of Maycomb is very traditional. Most people have the same racial prejudices and live by certain rules, also referred to as ‘codes’ by Atticus Finch (p. 224). Aunt Alexandra is a good example as she is not from Maycomb but lives 20 miles away. When she comes to live with Atticus and his children, Jem and Scout, the town accepts her immediately for with her “boarding-school manners” (p.142), her ladylike behaviour and her enthusiastic involvement into the Missionary Circle and the ‘Maycomb Amanuensis Club’, she represents the ideal of a Maycomb woman.
Although all people in Maycomb are quite different from each other, most of them, especially the more accepted, show respect, discipline and politeness. This can be seen in the Missionary Circle where ladies sit together to talk, drink tea and eat cakes (p. 253-259) and although they might not always agree on everything, they never directly say so. For example when Mrs Merriweather starts to criticise Atticus’ doing in Tom Robinson’s case, at a Missionary Circle in front of Scout - not naming anyone - Ms Maudie interrupts her and cuts off the subject without drawing anybody else’s attention to the quarrel.
There are not many people in Maycomb who are open-minded and willing to accept different people and/or things, which makes it difficult to change. So after loosing the trial, Ms Maudie admits that she did not think Atticus had any chance of winning but that he was “the only man who could keep a jury out that long” and that it was a step, if only a baby-step, towards equality (p. 238).
Furthermore this intolerance leads to Jem and Scout being confronted with offences against Atticus’ decisions by town people and fellow students. For one thing Mrs Dubose, an ‘evil’ neighbour of the Finch’s, criticises Atticus in a way that Jem is not willing to ignore and ends in him cutting down all her beloved camellias (p. 112-114). This in turn leads to Jem having to read to Mrs Dubose for more than a month (p. 117-122). For another thing the children at school badmouth Atticus probably with what they overheard their parents saying and this time it is Scout who looses her head a couple of times.
In a small town like Maycomb there is also a lot of gossiping and prejudices against ‘lower class’ people.

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While the gossiping is mainly done by Ms Stephanie Crawford who swears to have been present at every excitement that happened in town, all people are somehow affected by the castes or ‘streaks’ as Aunt Alexandra calls it (p.143). Everybody is put into a group, for instance the Ewell’s are ‘dirty and mean’ (p. 28-31), the Cunningham’s are ‘poor but hard-working, honest’ farmers who never take anything they cannot give back (p. 22-23) and of course the Radley’s, more specifically Arthur ‘Boo’ Radley who is described as a ”malevolent phantom” (p. 9). Firstly he is said to come out at night to look through people’s windows, secondly he supposedly tried to kill his father once and thirdly he lives on raw cats and squirrels (p. 9-12, 14).
There seem to be less religious prejudices in Maycomb, it is very important for everyone to go to church with exception of the Radley’s who prefer to worship at home. During the Missionary Circle, for example, the ladies from different churches have tea together. The importance of going to church is shown when Atticus is away and there is no one to take Jem and Scout to church on Sunday (p. 129-130). Hence Calpurnia, their black cook, asks them to come with her to the ‘coloured church’ and they agree. Cal makes them dress up even more than usually, so they will leave a good impression.
Ms Maudie who is a Baptist and takes her belief quite seriously, enjoys life, especially gardening but there are some Baptists who believe anything that is pleasure is a sin, so they often scold at her. She calls these people ‘foot-washing Baptists’ (p. 49-50) and although she knows about the importance of religion and the Bible, she thinks that some people go too far when taking the Bible literally and that the results can be seen in Maycomb (p. 50, “…you can look down the street and see the results.”).
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