How does the Cunninghams' situation contribute to the theme Appearances vs. Reality in To Kill a Mockingbird?For characters
The Cunninghams are extremely poor, and might, to some, appear to be needy, but in reality, they are very proud, decent people who are sustained by their integrity, and are very careful not to take from others anything they do not earn.
This contrast between appearances and reality is evident when Walter Cunningham comes to school without any lunch. The teacher, in an attempt to help him, offers to lend him the money to buy something to eat, but Walter will not accept it, knowing that he will never be able to pay it back. The Cunninghams have little money and in that way are needy, but to them, the greater need is to maintain their sense of dignity. Because of this, the children would rather go hungry than be beholden to others.
Walter's teacher does not see this quiet dignity which the Cunninghams strive to maintain at all costs. Because of this, she pressures Walter to take the money she is offering, not realizing that instead of helping him by enabling him to satisfy his physical hunger, she is hurting him by affronting his pride. Scout and the other children, who have grown up with the Cunninghams, know the family's reality, and their need to maintain their dignity. They are able to see beyond appearances, while the teacher is not.