To Kill A Mockingbird: The Link Between Novel Setting And The Great Depression

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The economic effects of the Great Depression plays a vital role in how the physical and psychological setting in To Kill A Mockingbird affects the characters as well as contributing to most conflicts in the novel.

In September of 1929, Andrew William Mellon declared, “There is no cause to worry. The high tide of prosperity will continue.” A quote which made people wonder whether it was true or not. The people of Maycomb County, Alabama, had a long way before they recovered. Many are very poor, and others were pulled down along with them. During the great depression, “nickels and dimes were hard to come by.” (lee 27) Shops closed down because of the rapid decline in the economy. Scout (the protagonist in To Kill a Mockingbird) mentioned, “There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing outside the boundaries of Maycomb County.”

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Of all of the people that were affected by the depression, farmers were influenced the most. Atticus once explained to Scout that “He (Walter) had probably never seen three quarters together at the same time.” (lee 25) Farming was the only option for them if they wanted to survive.

During the depression period, people did not share their money and did not spend much on agriculturalists’ products. Since nobody bought the food, farmers did not get any money. Therefore, the amount of money that the farmers earned deteriorated. Atticus told Scout, “The Cunninghams are country folks, farmers, and the crash hit them hardest.” (lee 27) Since the farmers were very poor, professional businessmen, such as dentists, doctors, and lawyers such as Atticus, had very little money as well.

(lee 27) Scout asks, “Are we poor Atticus?” Atticus nodded. “We are indeed.”(lee 27) The farmers were higher class peoples’ main customers. Since they didn’t have money to pay for the service, the companies’ equity plummeted. “As the Cunninghams had no money to pay a lawyer, they simply paid us with what they had.” (lee 28) This was one way poor agriculturalists such as Walter could pay for the professional service they required. Apparently, Dr. Reynolds worked in a similar way. He would not ask for their money, but rather for what they had at hand. (lee 28) Mr. Cunningham could have gotten employed for a WPA job (Works Progress Administration’s Job), but he desired to “keep his land and vote as he pleased” (lee 27-28). The Great Depression left most citizens of America in severe poverty and sometimes even starvation. “Walter Cunningham’s face told us that he had hookworms. His absence of shoes told us how he got them.”

(lee 25) Mr. Bob Ewell was pardoned from a rule in Maycomb because his children were beginning to starve due to poverty. The rule was that no hunting was permitted out of season, however Bob was an exception due to his situation. (lee 41) As seen, the Great Depression impacted Maycomb County very heavily. It had a large impact in Maycomb, Alabama in To Kill a Mockingbird. Many citizens lost employment and were forced down to the poverty line. Some, such as farmers/agriculturalists, had the least money. Food was available in very small quantities so children and adults alike often died from starvation. Crimes were committed during that time period because of the need for money in order to survive. Harper Lee defines what the Great Depression was truly like for most Americans during that unpleasant time period using her magnificent novel, To Kill A Mockingbird.

These are just a few representations from the book To Kill A Mockingbird that show how prevalent the great depression was. The great depression had a lot to do with the story, being parts of people’s actions causing conflict within the story.  


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