To Kill A Mocking Bird
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The Impact of Class Structure
The rigid class structure and social stratification of Maycomb County had a profound effect on the events in the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. The impact of this class structure and the underlying prejudice was especially evident in the trial of Tom Robinson, a Maycomb black man. Because of the strict class system of Maycomb County and the extreme prejudice of the town, Tom Robinson was unjustly convicted of, and sentenced to death for, a crime he did not commit.
The society of Maycomb County had a definitive structure containing four classes. The first and upper class consisted of white collar Caucasians who were considered “rich” in the post-depression years. Characters who fit into this class were Atticus Finch, a wealthy, highly respected lawyer and citizen in town, and Judge Taylor, the justice of Maycomb County and presiding judge at the Robinson trial. Other characters who belonged to this upper class were Miss Maudie Attkinson, an open-minded, kind woman, and Miss Stephanie Crawford, the renowned gossip of the town.
The second class in Maycomb County included the blue collar, white workers, and primarily farmers who struggled to make ends meet. The Cunninghams, Dolphus Raymond, and the mysterious Radley family represented this group. The third class of Maycomb County was the ” white trash.Ð† The Ewells, who lived at the dump and relied on welfare for survival, were members of this group. It is important to note that the difference between the second and third class was not a financial one. Both were “poor.Ð† The difference, however, was in the way they interacted in society. The Cunninghams, unlike the Ewells, refused to accept charity and they paid their debts with what little they had. The Cunninghams were also different from the Ewells because they didnt take advantage of Black men.
The fourth and lowest class in Maycomb included all the blacks that lived in this small county of Alabama. Prejudice ran deep in Maycomb County. Although several social levels existed within the Black community, a person of color was always in the lowest class of society in general. Therefore, the Blacks lived apart from the whites in their own section of town and seemed to have a society separate from the whites.
The strong prejudice of Maycomb County and the negative effects of its social strata were demonstrated by the trial of Tom Robinson. Tom was a hard-working, warm-hearted Black man who went out of his way to be kind and helpful to some poor white trash. He helped Miss Mayella because he felt sorry for her. His major shortcoming was the fact that he was black. Bob Ewell, a white drunk, who was an eyesore and a problem for the town, accused Robinson of raping his daughter Mayella. Atticus Finch, Tom Robinsons lawyer, made it immensely clear to the jury that Tom was innocent. It was actually Mayella who made sexual advances towards Tom, and as a result was beaten by her father for kissing a Black man. However, despite the obvious, undeniable facts of the case, the all white jury found in favor of the Ewells and sentenced Tom Robinson to death. Tom eventually died when he was shot in an attempt to escape from prison.
In examining the case, one can see how the four classes in Maycomb were involved to varying degrees. The first two classes were represented at the trial by the presiding judge and attorneys and many jurors. It was the responsibility of all these people to see that Tom received a fair trial despite the cord of prejudice that had a stranglehold on the townspeople of Maycomb.