In To Kill a Mockingbird, does the setting in which this story takes place make Mr. Cunningham's "blind spot" understandable? What is the difference between understanding and excusing a view?

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mr. Cunningham’s blind spot is common to people in Maycomb because they have grown up experiencing racism as normal.

Racism and prejudice is a part of life in Maycomb.  Most of the citizens believe that African Americans are inferior to white people.  It is not considered backward or bigoted to feel this way.  It leads to Mr. Cunningham and his mob attempting to lynch Tom Robinson, and willing to hurt Atticus for protecting him.

When Scout, Jem and Dill see their father sitting outside the jail, they go to see what is going on.  They soon find themselves in the middle of a dangerous situation, as the mob faces off against Atticus.  The Cunningham mob wants to take out Tom Robinson because, like most people in Maycomb, they believe he is guilty.  They think he raped a white woman, and they do not want to wait for the trial.

When Scout asks Atticus why Mr. Cunningham would try to hurt Atticus when he was his friend, Atticus explains.

Atticus placed his fork beside his knife and pushed his plate aside. “Mr. Cunningham’s basically a good man,” he said, “he just has his blind spots along with the rest of us.” (Ch. 16)

Jem disagrees, believing that Cunningham was trying to kill Atticus.  His father tells him that Cunningham would only try to hurt him, not kill him.  He still believes that Cunningham is basically a good man.  He tells his on that Cunningham was part of a mob, and a “mob’s always made up of people, no matter what.”

Scout’s intervention reminded Cunningham of where he was and what he was doing.  To injure or kill a black man and his lawyer is one thing, but to do so in front of three children is another.

“So it took an eight-year-old child to bring ‘em to their senses, didn’t it?” said Atticus. “That proves something—that a gang of wild animals can be stopped, simply because they’re still human….” (Ch. 16)

Scout wants to fight Cunningham’s son, Walter Jr., but Atticus tells her not to.  He doesn’t want her to hold a grudge against the Cunninghams for what happened.  The best thing to do is to forget about it and move on with the trial.

Just because Atticus understands Walter Cunningham does not mean he is telling his children that his actions are okay.  He does tell them that Cunningham had a blind spot.  However, it is important for his children and the reader to understand that the Cunninghams were not bad people, they were just acting according to society's norms.  It does not excuse what they did, but it does explain it.


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To Kill a Mockingbird

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