In Chapter 16, what does this passage mean: Coningham mother "was given to looking far away when she sat on front gallery. ..."          To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Describing the day in which the trial begins, Scout relates how the people arrive with Miss Maudie calling out to the "footwashers," and the Idlers' Club commenting that Atticus means to actually defend Tom Robinson.  As Scout gives the spatial relationship of the jury and Judge Taylor at the bench, she remarks upon the acumen of the venerable judge.  However, there was one time when Judge Taylor came to "a dead standstill in open court."  This was the time when their was a land controversy between the Cunninghams and the Coninghams, two families who had intermarried for generations and had even mingled their names to just Cunningham:

During a controversy of this character, Jeems Cunningham testified that his mother spelled it Cunningham on deeds and things, but she was really a Coningham, she was an uncertain speller, a seldom reader, and was given to looking far away sometimes when she sat on the front gallery in the evening.

Apparently, the Cunninghams and the Coninghams are rather inbred, as they were probably distant cousins to begin with.  The mother who looks off into the distance from the porch in the evening has probably very little going on mentally.  She may, in fact, have dementia from age, or she may have been mentally challenged from the beginning. At any rate, she is ill-educated and of diminished intelligence.

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