In To Kill a Mockingbird, when Jem Invites Walter to dinner, what do we learn about how the Great Depression has affected people's lives? Use Quotes and page numbers.

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amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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During the Great Depression, the South was still a more agricultural region relative to the more industrialized North. Both areas were hit hard and crops prices fell as much as 60%. Consequently, farmers like Walter Cunningham could often not make enough money from his crops, so he would barter with other people, as he does with Atticus. Atticus, being a lawyer, had been helping Walter with his entailment. He describes it to Scout in Chapter 2: 

Entailment was only a part of Mr. Cunningham’s vexations. The acres not entailed were mortgaged to the hilt, and the little cash he made went to interest. If he held his mouth right, Mr. Cunningham could get a WPA job, but his land would go to ruin if he left it, and he was willing to go hungry to keep his land and vote as he pleased. (11)

Since Walter had to reserve his extra money for the interest on his land, he could only pay Atticus in crops, which Scout mentions he has done in the past. An entailment allowed Walter to keep his land, but did nothing to help him get out of debt. 

In Chapter 24, Scout joins the women's missionary circle and listens to Mrs. Merriweather complain about Sophy's (her maid) sulky attitude the day after the trial. Known as the most devout lady in Maycomb, this chapter reveals that Mrs. Merriweather may be the most hypocritical character in the novel. She praises J. Grimes Everett's missionary work with the Mrunas and in describing him so saintly, she paints a picture of the Mrunas people as dark and immoral and that "not a white person'll go near'em but that saintly J. Grimes Everett" (123). Shortly thereafter, on the next page, Mrs. Merriweather claims that had Sophy continued to sulk after the trial, she would have fired her. Then she said the only reason she kept Sophy was because of the depression. In other words, Mrs. Merriweather made herself feel guilty, convincing herself into keeping Sophy; not because she understood Sophy's frustration over the outcome of the trial and her general position in a racist, depressed economy. 

This episode inTo Kill a Mockingbird shows how African-Americans were particularly hit hard by the Great Depression (and particularly in the South) because of the economy and because of the racist tendencies exhibited by people like Mrs. Merriweather. As jobs became harder to come by, jobs that were typically give to African-Americans (many of whom had no opportunity for a higher education), began going to whites. 


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