Although Maycomb is a fictitious town, Harper Lee creates a realistic and authentic atmosphere throughout the first four chapters of this novel. This is enhanced by the narrative technique where someone in later life is looking back and reflecting but with the events being seen and told through the eyes of a growing girl. By this means, we are introduced to the setting, the inhabitants who are closely observed and responded too & the situation where the confused child has explanations regarding the adult world around her.
Atticus becomes the voice of wisdom for Scout and us, leading to a greater understanding of how we should respond to the world nowadays and the people with their individual circumstances.
We see the range of pride and prejudice that are demonstrated by the members of their community, the influence of gossip and the prejudice that felt against those who were different. Theses differences are supported by realistic differences and engaging humour.
Maycomb County is described as a ‘small isolated inward looking town’ where children are free to roam around and find out about other peoples businesses. As it is such a small town, gossip is rife, especially for the Maycombian ladies. For example, Miss Maudie Atkinson says things to Scout that she wouldn’t tell boys which shows how important gossip is for these peoples lives.
We are told in detail the history of how the Finches came to be in Maycomb county, and that they have been inhabitants there for nearly a decade. This clever technique that Harper Lee uses, leads us to know the characters well, and see the range of people that a small, confined society has too offer. For example the Ewells who had been ‘the disgrace of Maycomb for over 3 generations,’ and the history behind the mysterious Boo Radley has lead to amounts of gossip and prejudice towards him and his family. This shows, that this society does not accept individuality and contains a small town mentality.
Also the fact that Maycombians do not accept ‘foreigners,’ for example when Miss. Caroline Fisher, Scouts teacher, from North Alabama, arrives at Maycomb with no background, it is clear that she is a naï¿½ve outsider. Harper Lee has an opportunity to acquaint the reader with Maycombs inhabitants. We learn about the background of the Ewell and Cunningham families, and we see how close-knit the Maycomb community is when the children are able to stereotype and make generalisations about particular groups of people that Miss. Fisher cannot understand.
The novel is told by a young girl in Maycomb, who is growing up and learning more about Maycomb society. Harper Lee’s technique makes us the readers grow up with Scout, Jem and Dill to fill in the details and add realism to the novel. As it is told from a child’s viewpoint we get her perspective on other people who live in her county, which is usually exaggerated and has a sense of humour to it which heightens the impact of a child’s viewpoint.
The fact that Harper Lee does not sensationalise and backs her points up with humour is a very good technique as it makes the reader more engaged with the novel. Also when the kids talk about comic book heroes there colloquial language gives us an authentic picture and makes the story very realistic.
There is also a very limited attitude towards educational methods, where there is no room for the individual foe example, when Miss. Fisher tells scout not to read anymore. This presents a ‘small town attitude.’
However, we are constantly being educated by Atticus and Scout, this technique gives us a sense of morality and leaves the reader with something to think about.
The children are also surprised when they learn about their father being the ‘best shot in the county’ from their society. This shows how everyone knows everyone’s business.
We must also acknowledge the fact that, Calpurnia, the Finches cook, hardly ever comments upon peoples businesses or gossip, as she feels the racial tension and it is not her place to say. So when she commented on Mr. Nathan Radley, ‘there goes the meanest…’ Scout and Jem were surprised at this rare judgement. It is also the first comment between Negroes and Whites.
The hypocrisy of Catholicism is also a clever technique (which will become more apparent late on) as Maycombians were either strictly Baptists or Methodists, and the Bible said to understand and forgive your neighbours, yet there was still so much prejudice and the pressures, racism, arrogance, gossips and pride in the southern states which makes us think about their humanity and compassion of the church and their society.
The thing that Harper Lee achieves in the opening four chapters is the creation of a small town community in who we can believe, and are told about in an amusing yet very realistic way, as a child would see it.
Furthermore, Harper Lee employs the technique of repeating the type of incidents and conversation that occur. Where each time their significance increases, as it does in the book Lord of the Files. This style makes certain issues significant, draws us into the story, but above all suggests the passing of time as the children are growing up.
Many teenage readers have grown up with this book, which is almost 50 years old- a reflection of its timeless awareness of real life and real people.