To Kill a Mockingbird Questions and Answers
by Harper Lee

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In Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, what are the Cunninghams like?

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Adam Mangum eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The Cunninghams are a family of poor but proud farmers who refuse to accept charity from anyone. When Atticus Finch performs legal work on an entailment for Walter Cunningham Sr., he accepts payment in the form of farm produce such as nuts, firewood, and turnip greens.

When a first-grade teacher who is new to Maycomb offers to lend money to young Walter Cunningham Jr. so he can get lunch, Scout gets into trouble when she tries to discourage her, explaining that "he's a Cunningham" and has been trained never to accept a handout.

Later, in chapter 15, Walter Cunningham is one of the members of a mob aiming to extract Tom Robinson from the Maycomb jail to no good end. However Atticus is waiting there when they arrive. To the lawyer's amazed concern, his children suddenly appear. Scout notices a familiar face in the crowd and says, "Hey Mr. Cunningham, how's your entailment getting along?" She tells him that she knows his son from school, and that she remembers him bringing her family hickory nuts. Abashed, the farmer replies, "I'll tell him you said hey, little lady." He turns to the mob and tells them to clear out. They do.

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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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