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In Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, at the beginning of the book, we find that the Cunninghams are poor people, but Mr. Cunningham has a strong sense of pride. He will not take charity. When he needs legal work from Atticus, he pays with goods, like a basket of nuts or some vegetables. Atticus accepts these payments graciously.
Walter Cunningham, the boy in Scout's classroom, comes to school with clean patched clothes, a clean face, and bare feet, having no shoes. He has been taught not to accept charity either. When their teacher, Miss Caroline, tries to lend him money to go to town to get lunch, Walter refuses, very politely. Someone in the class suggests that Scout explain the situation to Miss Caroline, who doesn't comprehend Scout's explanation and gets so angry with Scout that paddles her hands as a punishment. Scout has a clear understanding of the Cunninghams' situation from discussions with Atticus. The story takes place during the Great Depression where many people had next to nothing. Miss Caroline cannot understand what Scout is telling her and takes offense.
The Cunninghams get by, but it is not easy in this time of a devastated economy, especially in the South not that long after the Civil War, a war from which the South is still rebuilding.
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