I feel that the author Harper Lee portrayed the setting of Maycomb in a lot more detail than Malorie Blackman did in ‘Noughts and Crosses’. As a result I feel that the setting in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is a lot more significant to the plot than the setting described in ‘Noughts and Crosses’. In ‘Noughts and Crosses’ Blackman depicts a number of different locations and all of these are imbued with symbolic significance for the characters and themes. Conversely, in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, Harper Lee adroitly brings to life the world of Maycomb and its inhabitants.
Harper Lee deftly evokes the sleepy, moribund (slow) pace of life in the opening chapter. We are told that ‘Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it….. People moved slowly then. There was no hurry for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it’.
Maycomb is an insular place wherein everyone is related to each other and consequently everyone knows each other’s business: ‘Atticus was related by blood or by marriage to nearly every family in the town’. Scout is able to inform us officiously (nosey) that ‘The Cunninghams are country folk, and the crash hit them hardest’.
Aunt Alexandra represents the ‘fine folks’ of Maycomb. She is a snob and referred to as an ‘incurable gossip’. She does not want Scout to be associating with Walter Cunningham because he is poor. She tells Scout that ‘Finch women aren’t interested in that sort of people’. When Scout challenges her further on the issue, she despicably informs Scout that in her mind Walter ‘white trash, that’s why you can’t play with him’. It is a very stratified/layered society wherein the likes of the Finches represent the ‘fine folks’, the Ewells are referred to as ‘white trash’ and ‘the negroes’ are viewed as the socially inferior. It is a segregated society wherein whites and blacks attend different schools and churches.
When Scout and Jem visit the First Purchase, an African-American church, they discover that there are no bibles there as most of the people cannot read. Their maid Calpurnia is the only exception.
Similarly in ‘Noughts and Crosses’ it is a divided society. Conversely, it is the white ‘noughts’ that are the socially inferior to the socially elite black ‘crosses’. Parallels can be drawn with the world of Maycomb in that the two communities attend different schools and have completely different life expectations. The noughts are expected to do all the menial work like the blacks in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. They received little or no education. Just as in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ where the blacks are disparagingly labelled ‘niggers’, the noughts are derogatorily labelled ‘blankers’. In both novels, these derogatory terms are an attempt to dehumanise and rob people of their human dignity.
In the novel ‘Noughts and Crosses’, the author makes effective use of different locations in order to reinforce key themes. The Manor house in which Sephy lives, is representative of the socially elite, power and wealthy crosses. Callum’s house, the McGregor house is described as a ‘shack’ and is indicative of the poverty and deprivation that the noughts are subjected to. The beach to which Sephy and Callum so often frequent alone, symbolises a world of peace and harmony wherein the colour of one’s skin doesn’t matter. Heathcroft High School, the prison and the courthouse are all emblematic of the corrupt and unjust status quo wherein one group of people in a society are viewed as inferior to another and are oppressed as a result.
I think Harper Lee’s setting is more pivotal to the story for a number of reasons:
Firstly, the setting is very important to the story as it shapes the views and attitudes of its inhabitants and how they in turn interact with each other. It is a society that is deeply racist and this racism is quite acceptable.
Secondly, this setting is crucial to Tom Robinson’s trial. It is inconceivable that a black man’s word will be taken over a white woman’s word in this world. Scout informs us that ‘Tom was a dead man the minute Mayella Ewell opened her mouth and screamed’. Furthermore in this deeply racist society, it is inconceivable that a black man could feel sorry for a white woman. When Tom Robinson tells the court how he often helped Mayella because he felt sorry for her, Scout informs us ‘But the damage was done. Below us, nobody liked Tom Robinson’s answer’.
This setting is important because we see how deeply ingrained this racism is in the existence of the Old Sarum bunch, a group of vigilantes who want to break into the jail and deal with Tom Robinson themselves. The Old Sarum bunch do not believe that it is right that Tom Robinson be given a fair trial in a court of law like a white man.
This setting is very important in that it allows us to see how courageous Atticus was, in terms of standing up for what he believes in even when his safety and the safety of his family were at risk. He tells Scout that ‘before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself’. However, when he is confronted with the Old Sarum bunch, the tension is clearly palpable and we fear for Atticus’ safety. He describes the Old Sarum bunch as a ‘mob’ that is ‘a gang of wild animals’.
Furthermore, this setting is really important in terms of underscoring/highlighting the acceptance of racist attitudes among the inhabitants of Maycomb who view Tom Robinson’s trial as ‘a gala occasion’. This is horrendous considering an innocent man will be put to death for a crime that he didn’t commit. The tragedy is that Tom dies anyway in trying to escape this miscarriage of justice.
Whilst the setting in ‘Noughts and Crosses’ is important to the overall plot, I feel that Maycomb is more significant in terms of underscoring the attitudes and values of people of the time. Harper Lee brings to life the town of Maycomb in the imagination of the reader.