How would you compare and contrast Bob Ewell and Mr. Cunningham from Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird?

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both Bob Ewell and Walter Cunningham are poor white fathers with many children's mouths to feed. Ewell lives on a plot of land near the dump, but Cunningham lives on a farm. Ewell can't hold down a job because he is too lazy, so he hunts out of season to feed his children. Cunningham does his best to keep his family fed, but the effects of the Great Depression hit him hard. As a result, both families are hungry most of the time and suffer from minor diseases associated with poverty. The greatest comparison between the two men is that they suffer financially, which makes it difficult to feed their families and enjoy a more comfortable lifestyle.

The major difference between these two men is work ethic and good character. For example, Ewell is usually drunk and unable to provide for his family, while Mr. Cunningham does his best to keep working his farm and paying off his debts. Cunningham lives by a moral code of ethics which Ewell doesn't care about. Cunningham pays his debts, honors his word, and remains loyal to people he respects. Ewell, on the other hand, would see his children suffer rather than keep a job to help them. 

The following is what Scout was taught about the Ewells:

"Atticus said the Ewells had been the disgrace of Maycomb for three generations. None of them had done an honest day's work in his recollection . . . They were people, but they lived like animals" (30).

This passage shows that the Ewells don't value working for what they have. They are willing to go hungry rather than work. On the other hand, Mr. Cunningham goes hungry for the following reasons:

"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 . . . he was willing to go hungry to keep his land and vote as he pleased . . . As the Cunninghams had no money to pay a lawyer, they simply paid us with what they had" (21).

Therefore, Mr. Cunningham values being a landowner so he can vote and participate in political issues, but he would also prefer to keep working than live like the Ewells.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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