What do the three boys--Burris, Francis, and Walter, Jr.--tell us about the next generation of Maycombites in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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    If we were to judge the next generation of males solely on the basis of these three boys in Harper Lee's novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, then the streets of Maycomb will surely be a more hazardous place to walk in the future.
    Burris is the son of Bob Ewell, the biggest "white trash" family in Maycomb. Burris appears to be a chip off the old block: He appears on the first day of school, filthy and lice-ridden. He laughs at Miss Caroline's suggestion that he bathe upon his return and likens school to a prison.

"... You ain't sendin' me home, missus. I was on the verge of leavin'--I done done my time for this year."

Like Burris' father, violence against women just comes naturally.

    Miss Caroline said, "Sit back down, Burris," and the moment she said it I knew she had made a serious mistake. The boy's condescension flashed to anger.
    "You try and make me, missus... Report and be damned to ye. Ain't no snot-nosed slut of a schoolteacher ever born c'n make me do nothin'..."
    He waited until he was sure she was crying, then he shuffled out of the building.

    Walter Cunningham Jr. is thankfully no Burris Ewell, but he also seems to take after his father. Walter Sr. is a dirt poor but honest farmer who Atticus has previously represented in court. But he neglects his children--partly out of poverty--and allows his racist views to override his other sensibilities. The father shows good heart when Scout talks him out of lynching Tom Robinson, and young Walter is genuinely pleased with being invited to the Finches for lunch, so both show a commendable side not existing in the Ewells. Walter Jr. will probably inherit his father's farm--still "mortgaged to the hilt"--and continue in the family traditions.
    Francis is the first cousin of Jem and Scout, the son of Aunt Alexandra. Although his family suffers none of the financial difficulties of the Ewells or Cunninghams, Francis's own thoughts and actions are similar.

    Talking to Francis gave me the sensation of slowly settling to the bottom of the ocean. He was the most boring child I ever met.       

Francis' mother constantly scolds Atticus for his poor parenting skills, but it is obvious that Jem and Scout will grow into fine, upstanding, intelligent adults. The same cannot be said for Francis.

"... I guess it ain't your fault if Uncle Atticus is a nigger-lover besides, but I'm here to tell you it certainly does mortify the rest of the family... Grandma says it's bad enough he let you all run wild, but now he's turned out a nigger-lover we'll never be able to walk the streets of Maycomb agin."

Francis is wrong, of course. As an adult, he will able to walk the streets of Mayomb with Burris and Walter Jr. at his side.

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