Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is set during the Great Depression of the 1930's. How does this economic catastrophe affect the actions of characters such as Walter Cunningham Sr. and Tom Robinson?

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Most of the country's economics in the early twentieth century was agriculturally based. A high percentage of families lived and worked on farms for their livelihoods. When Scout asks if they were as poor as the Cunninghams, her father gives her an answer that includes the effects of the stock market crash of 1929, which preceded the Great Depression:

"'Not exactly. The Cunninghams are country folks, farmers, and the crash hit them the hardest' . . . Atticus said professional people were poor because the farmers were poor. . . As the Cunninghams had no money to pay a lawyer, they simply paid us with what they had" (21).

Atticus proceeds to explain that he accepts any goods that Mr. Cunningham has to use as payment in order to pay off his bill. This is also called paying in-kind. Hence, because of the Great Depression, people like the Cunninghams found other ways to pay for things they needed. 

As far as Tom Robinson is concerned, he was employed as a picker for Mr. Link Deas. He probably earned far less than a white man would because of social inequality at the time, but he earned money rather than farming his own land. When Tom was arrested, he couldn't work; so, his church collected money for his wife Helen and three children. The collection goal was to raise $10.00, which doesn't seem like much at all.

"To our amazement, Reverend Sykes emptied the can onto the table and raked the coins into his hand. He straightened up and said, 'This is not enough, we must have ten dollars'" (122).

The Reverend Sykes had to hold his congregation hostage until they coughed up the money dime by dime. Many of the congregation may have been prejudiced against Helen and Tom for the rape allegations, but for the most part, it was probably just hard to raise $10.00 because of the economic hardships that everyone suffered at that time.

 

 

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