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Walter Cunningham is a man who is poor but always tried to pay back Atticus for being his lawyer. Even though Walter Cunningham couldn't afford legal services, Atticus still helped him out and Cunningham paid him in firewood and hickory nuts. His son, also named Walter, is a classmate of Scout's who is very proud. The Cunninghams may be poor, but they aren't the type to take charity. When the mob is gathering and it looks like it might turn into a lynching, Scout recognizes him and speaks to him about his son and about her father's work. This shames him, and in return, he talks the men out of being violent and gets everyone to leave.
Walter Cunningham (the father) is one of the poorest men in town. His son, who dines with the Finches, has poor manners, and appears to be unschooled in the social graces as a result of their poverty. For instance, Scout recoils in shock when Walter (the son) decides to put molasses on his dinner of meat and vegetables. Calpurnia gives her a stern lecture about honoring guests as a result.
The Cunningham family, while poor, is still proud. That is, they refuse charity from those who offer it as illustrated in Scout's classroom. The teacher tries to give Walter a quarter for his lunch, and he won't accept it.
Mr. Cunningham is instrumental later in the novel in breaking up a lynch mob outside the county jail when Scout appeals to his sense of humanity by recalling her visits with his son, among other things.
There are two Walter Cunninghams in the Harper Lee novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. The elder Cunningham was a former client of Atticus Finch, while Walter Junior is one of Scout's classmates. Mr. Cunningham is a poor farmer who lives in Old Sarum, and he was one of the lynch mob who was turned away by Atticus at the jail. Walter Jr. is a skinny, child whose "face told everybody in the first grade he had hookworms." He went barefoot to school and never had food or money for lunch. But he does wear clean clothes (unlike Burris Ewell) and is polite. When he is invited by Jem for lunch at the Finch house, he "piled food on his plate," and then drowned everything in syrup. When Scout objected, Calpurnia removed her from the dining room and gave her a good lecture.
One of the most telling episodes regarding Walter Cunningham happens in Chapters 2-3. The town's new teacher, Ms. Caroline, asks all students who are not going home for lunch to take out their lunches and set them on their desks. Walter doesn't have a lunch, and Ms. Caroline insists that he take a quarter to buy himself a lunch for the day. She says he can pay her back the next day. Walter refuses many times, and finally Scout jumps in and explains to Ms. Caroline that Walter is a Cunningham, and Cunninghams "never took anything they can't pay back."
Later in the chapter, Scout rubs Walter's nose in the dirt, so Jem invites him over for lunch that day. During lunch, Walter and Atticus have a very adult-like conversation about crops and the problems of farming, until Scout interrupts and questions/scolds Walter for drowning his food in syrup.
This chapter shows the reader much about Walter Cunningham. First off, we see that he is a proud little boy, probably because his family has raised him that way. He refuses to accept Ms. Caroline's quarter, even though he is clearly hungry, because he knows he cannot repay it. We see that he is forgiving since he goes to Scout's house and sits peacefully at the table with her, even after she rubbed his nose in the dirt. We see in his conversation with Atticus that he is mature and wise, though not academically inclined. He can't seem to pass the first grade, but he can carry on a conversation with an adult about farming. All of these details really come together to show how poor Walter and his family really are. His description of having "no color in his face" and looking as if "he had been raised on fish food" illustrate how the child is not receiving enough nutrition, further reinforced by the fact that he pours syrup (extra calories) all over his food.
The following is an excerpt from a study guide offered by eNotes forTo Kill a Mockingbirddescribing Walter Cunningham:
"Walter Cunningham. Sr., is a member of a poor family who "never took anything they couldn't pay back." A former client of Atticus's, he paid for legal service with goods such as firewood and hickory nuts. After Scout recognizes him in the potential lynch mob and speaks to him of his son. he leads the crowd away from violence. "
Mr. Cunningham is a man with some qualities similar to Atticus. He practices a high level of honesty both with others and himself. Cunningham never fails to pay back his debts in whatever means he can. He is also concerned about the values he is teaching to his children.
You can find the entire study guide at the link below.
Walter Cunningham is a man who is poor but proud. Though not having much money, he always makes sure to pay what he owes. A former client of Atticus Finch, Atticus describes him as someone who's too poor to pay off debts in money, but still finds a way to make sure he gets people what they are owed. As Jean Louise describes it: "The Cunninghams never took anything they can't pay back- no church baskets and no scrip stamps. They never took anything off of anybody, they get along on what they have. They don't have much, but they get along on it" (13).
Cunningham's committment to making sure he remains on good terms with others displays a sort of righteousness and honor code that he lives by. He shows a sense of character and this is later seen during the mob scene when the town's citizens attempt to attack Tom Robinson. Though originally with the mob, he is innocently questioned by Jean Louise about his life. The girl's kindness leaves an impression upon him, causing his anger to diminish, resulting in him telling the mob to leave.
He is a poor man who tries to pay Atticus back for being a lawyer. Although they are quite poor, Walter does not want to accept charity. His son is in Scout's class and they call him over one day. When Scout sees Walter, she asks how his son is during the time they are within the mob. He realizes his mistake and makes the crowd go home.
Cunningham is a very poor man who wants to try and pay atticus back for being his lawyer.
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