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Aunt Alexandra is more of a social climber than Atticus, and as such, she views the Cunnighams as decent, but hopelessly lower class individuals. It is perfectly acceptable, and in fact is encouraged, to treat them with respect and civility, but due to their poverty and lack of formal education, it is impossible for Scout and Jem to be true friends with the children. Aunt Alexandra believes her family to be superior in every way, and therefore at a level the Cunnighams could never hope to reach. Atticus, on the other hand, is much more open to possibilities than his narrow-minded, but well-intentioned sister. He is considered to behave the same way in public as he does at home; it's a high compliment because it means he doesn't put on airs or treat people as anything but equals, regardless of the setting. Atticus is also more sensitive to the emotions and issues that others are facing. In terms of the Cunnighams, he gives young Walter a chance to shine when they are at the luncheon table. He knows that Walter probably doesn't do well in academics because he is needed at home or in the field, necessitating more absences from school than other children. As a result, Atticus talks to Walter about farming, and lets Walter be the star at the table. When Walter Sr. comes to the house to drop off produce for his bill, Atticus greets him pleasantly enough, but takes the chance to instruct Scout that it might not be comfortable for Mr. Cunnigham to have to face Atticus, unable to pay with cash. Atticus would approve of the children being friends with the Cunnighams because he is the personification of tolerant, compassionate, and intelligent.
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