Acquainted with Mr. Walter Cunningham because he has paid visits to her father at their house about legal matters, Scout knows him as a hard-working, honest man. She also is aware that, like many during the Great Depression, Mr. Cunningham is poor. But, because he is an honorable man, Mr. Cunningham insists upon recompensing the doctor and Atticus by bringing to the house vegetables that he has harvested on his farm, along with chopped wood.
When Scout goes to school on the first day, she is in class with Walter Cunningham's son, who has his father's name. With the approach of the period for lunch, the first-grade teacher named Miss Caroline takes inventory of those who have brought meals, those who will purchase lunch, and those who will eat at home. When Walter Cunningham, Jr., answers "Yeb'm" to Miss Caroline after she asks him if he has forgotten his lunch, she offers to lend him a quarter. But, Walter refuses to take it. One of the children whispers to Scout, urging her to explain to the teacher why Walter will not borrow the quarter. Scout does so by saying, "Miss Caroline—he's a Cunningham." When asked for an explanation, Scout says that the Cunninghams have never taken anything that they cannot pay back. They take no charity from churches or gifts from anyone; they have never accepted "scrip stamps," either. (These stamps were part of the Franklin D. Roosevelt era programs during the Great Depression. They were issued to people who needed food.)
Unfortunately for Scout, her well-meaning gesture of explaining the Cunninghams' background backfires after she tells Miss Caroline that she is "shamin'" Walter. Perceiving Scout's remark as one that is insolent, Miss Caroline punishes Scout by slapping the inside of her hand with a ruler several times and sending her to stand in the corner. When the class realizes that Scout has been "whipped," the students break out in "a storm of laughter" that causes the teacher who is next door to come in and complain, further embarrassing Miss Caroline.
Afterward, Scout blames Walter as the cause of her humiliation before the class. Once in the schoolyard, Scout seeks retribution; she catches Walter and rubs his nose in the dirt. Since he is nearby, Jem sees her and stops Scout. Taking a close look at Walter, Jem asks him if his father is Walter Cunningham from Old Sarum. Although Walter does not answer, Jem surmises that he is Walter's son. Then Jem charitably invites the boy to come home with them for "dinner." Still harboring resentment against Walter, Scout is critical of Walter's eating habits at their table. When Calpurnia hears Scout complain of Walter's drowning his dinner in syrup, the housekeeper becomes "furious." She calls Scout into the kitchen and makes Scout finish her meal at the kitchen table after issuing the girl a "stinging smack" and a scolding about her poor manners.