In Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, explain in what ways Scout and Jem make Mr. Cunningham walk in Atticus' shoes.

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Tom Robinson (charged with the rape of a white woman) is being held in jail. Atticus, prepared for the worst, is sitting in front of the jail when the lynch mob arrives. Among the group is Mr. Cunningham. Then the children arrive.

Atticus has told Jem and Scout that to understand someone—to really understand him—they must put themselves in that person's skin; i.e., one must walk in another's shoes or put himself in another's place to be able to see things from that person's perspective.

I think that Jem may set an example of what a man is willing to do when he believes he is right. Jem is standing up for his father, following the same moral compass that Atticus follows, though Jem may not realize it. Jem refuses to abandon his dad; (Atticus is desperately afraid for his children, knowing what a mob is capable of). Jem takes a stand next to his father.

Scout, however, is the one who gets "up close and personal" with Mr. Cunningham. With the innocence of a child, she forces Walter Cunningham to stand in Atticus' shoes by first reminding him of his relationship with Atticus. Atticus helped Cunningham with his entailment—providing legal services for whatever Cunningham could provide (vegetables, etc.). Mr. Cunningham does not respond. Then Scout reminds Cunningham of who she is—Atticus' child—not unlike his own. She says she goes to school with Walter.

"He's in my grade," I said, "and does right well. He's a good boy," I added, "a real nice boy. We brought him home for dinner one time…Tell him hey for me, won't you?"

Getting no response, Scout decides to try to speak about the entailment again, remembering her manners—that it's important to speak of things that matter to the other person, not to you.

"Entailments are bad," I was advising him, when I slowly awoke to the fact that I was addressing the entire aggregation.

When Scout sees that everyone is staring at her, even her father, with "attention that amounted to fascination," Scout attempts to explain her reasoning to Atticus—that times might be rough, but that people have to stick together.

Well, Atticus, I was just sayin' to Mr. Cunningham that entailments are bad an' all that, but you said not to worry, it takes a long time sometimes…that you all'd ride it out together…

Finally, Walter Cunningham seems to remember himself. Perhaps he recalls that Atticus was there to help him when he needed legal assistance. Scout reminds him, too, that—like Atticus—he is a father, more so than the member of a mob. (For in truth, a mob has the mentality of an angry dog: individuality does not drive a mob, but shared anger and a sense of power fed by size and fury.) Finally, Scout reminds Cunningham of Atticus' words—based on Atticus' own behavior with Cunningham earlier—that times are tough and everyone must stick together.

For a time, Cunningham lost sight of what was important in his life: his family and his place in the community—even his business relationship with Atticus. Remembering these commonalities he shares with Atticus, he walks in Atticus' skin. Apparently upon reflection, Cunningham collects himself and his sense of proper justice (it would seem). Mr. Cunningham then stoops down to speak to Scout:

I'll tell him you said hey, little lady.

His comment to Scout shows his separation from the mob. Cunningham tells the other men to go home, and the group disperses.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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