Atticus says that Mr. Cunningham is basically good but has blind spots like everyone else. What does Atticus mean? How is Atticus different from the men at the jail at night?

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price7781 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mr. Cunningham’s “blind spot” is the prejudice and racism he feels for blacks in the community.  Even though Mr. Cunningham represents the poor white in the South, he still wants to hold onto the little bit of privilege he has as a white person.  The racist feelings he has, in his mind, elevate him socially and make him feel better than they are.  Mr. Cunningham does, however, represent some good.  He is conscientious about the debt he owes Atticus for attorney fees, and he seems to be a hardworking man.  Unfortunately, he is unable to completely provide for his family, shown by Walter Cunningham’s lack of a lunch on the first day of school.  People like Mr. Cunningham who are marginalized by poverty often find others to blame or discriminate against.  In Mr. Cunningham’s case, the African Americans in the community bear the brunt of his own feelings of inadequacy and his prejudiced views.  That is why he is a member of the lynch mob that goes to hang Tom Robinson.  He feels Tom Robinson committed one of the worst crimes, which was the rape of a white woman.

Atticus is different than Mr. Cunningham in many ways.  First of all, Atticus hasn’t grown up in poverty where one must fight to survive and where one often grows up in ignorance.  Although Atticus isn’t rich, he is well educated and has seen the world outside of Maycomb.  Atticus is a symbol of men in the South who have moved on from their racist views; he is more accepting of peoples’ differences.  Atticus understands the value of all people, whether they are black like Tom Robinson or troubled like Boo Radley.  He takes Tom’s case out of an obligation, but he understands that it is also the right thing to do.  He knows he will lose, but he still decides to defend Tom at the jailhouse when the lynch mob arrives, as well as at the trial. 

Mr. Cunningham and Atticus Finch represent opposites in the novel; they are the difference between the racist past and the equality the future could hold. 

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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