The social expectations of Maycomb, Alabama are the antagonist of To Kill a Mockingbird. The community of Maycomb grows largely hostile to Atticus and his children because Atticus has chosen to behave outside the expectations of those around him to uphold the racist status quo. Even Tom Robinson’s guilty verdict and eventual death are the result of Mayella Ewell’s decision to act outside social expectations that she not become sexually involved with a black man. Mayella would rather wrongfully accuse an innocent man of rape than admit she made a sexual advance at someone outside her race. Scout runs into conflict over her father’s expectations regarding how she should behave as a daughter, her teacher’s expectations regarding how she should behave as a student, her aunt’s expectations regarding how she should behave as a girl, and Jem and Dill’s expectations regarding how she should behave as a friend.
Even though Maycomb serves in several ways as an antagonist to Scout, the town is not an entirely villainous entity. Certainly, there are villainous, even monstrous, aspects to the town, but Maycomb is also the tool by which Scout is able to learn about the realities of the world. In her interactions with Boo Radley, Mrs. Dubose, Calpurnia, and Walter Cunningham, among others, Scout learns to empathize with those around her, even when their behavior and motivation seems strange to her. In struggling against the expectations of the people in her community Scout learns to see other people’s perspectives. And in going through the experience of the trial, Tom Robinson’s unfair conviction, and eventual death, Scout witnesses firsthand the devastating effects of racism. Although the town of Maycomb attempts to thwart Atticus’s goal of raising his children free of prejudice, Atticus prevails, and teaches Scout and Jem to question social expectations they believe are unjust.