Sociology has tried to inquire into the profound need people invariably feel to classify, to put a label on their fellow humans, to asses where they stand in their relationships with others, to what group they belong. This would not be a bad thing in itself as long as the criteria used for achieving this were free of prejudice.
The stratification of the human society goes back several millennia. Unfortunately, as much as one would wish to think that modern world is approaching a new era where social status as a basis of discrimination will become a notion of the past, the present is showing strong indications that the stratification of the human society is still in place even in the most advanced countries. Literature is one of the vehicles that have provided writers a powerful tool to expose the evils of certain societies as well as the means to point out that humans are always a perfectible image that only has to look in the mirror from time to time and listen to common sense. Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mocking Bird is one of those literary pieces that aside from its indisputable artistic value, works as a manifest for all those who still think the most developed part of world has found the solution to inequity, injustice, inequality and prejudice and is fighting to spread it throughout the entire world.
The action in Harper Lee's novel is taking place in a small southern town heavily affected by the Great Depression. Poverty affects everyone and only a few are really able to provide for their families as if there were normal prosperous economic times. The small town of Maycomb is struggling to keep afloat and the people living in this town are even more eager to make distinctions between classes divide them and place them into one strata or the other.
There are four main classes that stand out from the first chapters of the novel and the narrator child, Jean-Louise Finch, called Scout, is a child preparing to live her last years of innocence. Her father, Atticus Finch, a successful, intelligent, out of the ordinary lawyer whose father was also a lawyer has raised his tow children, Scout and her brother Jem in a liberal free of prejudice atmosphere, in the spirit of absolute human values, in deep disregard for any criteria of classifying people other than their intrinsic values as human beings.
Scout's first days in school are hard because her father had not prepared her for a reality that was quite different than the ideal world and way of life he had taught his children they lived in. The novel has a strong moralizing tone and the Finch family appears, represented by Atticus, appears to be the ideal family, from all points-of-view except one: the fact that the children's mother passed away when Scout was two. Nevertheless, the father does a good job at educating his children until they meet reality themselves and realize was a twist on their father's teachings.
In the real world, the Finch family was among the fortunate who had succeeded to keep their assets and were continuing to earn a good living through the hard and highly valued work of the intelligent and well educated Atticus Finch. In the small world of the southern town, he is an aristocrat. First and foremost, he is white, second generation of lawyers, descendants of landowners. He refuses to raise his daughter in the spirit of the Southern belle and allows her to develop according to her true essence, try to accomplish her dreams and aspirations. He must be aware that the world, especially in the early thirties, when the American nation was swept off by the destructive wave of the Great Depressions, is a tough place for those who are unwilling to conform and take different paths. Atticus is the one character that remains almost impossible to conceive in a real world because he is always setting the moral tone and he never appears to choose injustice, no matter the cost. He is constant and therefore almost inhuman.
The two children in the book are caught between what they have learned at home about the world, what the real world presents them with and the way they are expected to deal with the new aspects of their lives. The first days in school are very important for Scout as she meets children who are different in many ways than what she knew from home. One of them, the Cunningham boy, does not have a lunch bag and no money to purchase his lunch. He represents the next social class, the class of the poor hardworking whites, those who make labor the land. Although his parents never have cash, they are able to pay for the services rendered to them with the fruits of their farm and do not attempt to get anything they cannot pay. The conflict arises soon since Scout since is unprepared for the meeting with those who starve and her teacher is inexperienced to acknowledge that fact that children not all children have the means to get a meal every day in school. Stereotypes are well in place and the innocent six-year-old Scout, unable to act outside her judgment, is punished by the teacher who is also incapable to understand her reaction.
Going down the leader of society in Maycomb, there is the Ewell family, whose children come to school only one day, the first day of each year, in order to avoid being accused of not abiding by the law. The absurd is evident since one knows that the law is made to serve justice and justice means that every child should get the elementary education. The Ewell family is not only too poor to keep their children in school more than one day a year, but they are also on the side of braking the law. They are not appearing to be doing work of any kind and the only way they survive is by theft. They are poor, dishonest and filthy. They are the class the other two classes above them are trying to stay away at almost any cost.
The last class, classified entirely on skin color is that of the African-Americans who regardless of the way they are making a living, are situated at the bottom the small city of Maycomb. They are considered the lowest of the low and although abolition happened decades ago, the rest of the southern society is very careful to keep them down, never create any ways for them to access to a superior class, place in the buss etc. The civil rights movement was couple of decades away, but people like Atticus, although scarce in numbers, were preparing its future.
The fourth class in Maycomb, that of the white trash contains another type, that of the outcast. The southern society before the civil war remained in history as one of the most rigid societies of all times. People who did not conform to the acceptable standards became outcasts and their way back into being tolerated was closed for ever. Plantation owners who relied heavily on lave labor needed a strong steel hand and the hierarchy in the society as a whole followed the rules of a military unit where discipline was above everything else.
Boo Radley, the outcast, frightens the children in the town at first, because they are told that he represents evil. The children will eventually find out for themselves that he is actually a person capable of acting with compassion in spite of what traumatic experience developed his deviant behavior. They learn a valuable lesson that categorizing people is useful as long as one relies heavily o one's own judgment before…