Entailments Are Bad

What does this quote mean?

“Hey, Mr. Cunningham. How's your entailment gettin' along?”

 Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This line spoken by Scout comes from Chapter 15 in which the mob of country men come to the jail house and threaten Atticus as they demand the release of Tom Robinson to them. 

When Atticus goes out for a walk and does not return, Jem becomes concerned, and Scout insists upon accompanying him in his search for their father.  After they see him sitting under a bald light bulb before the jailhouse, they turn to leave.  However, as they take a short cut across the square, four dusty cars stop before the jail, and many men get out, smelling of whiskey and speaking in threatening whispers.  Sensing that their father is endangered, Jem comes forward, but Atticus tells his son to go home.  When a burly man grabs Jem roughly, Scout gives the man a swift kick.  Despite his father's order, Jem refuses to leave. 

Just then, Scout recognizes Mr. Cunningham and asks him about his "entailment."  This word is familiar to Scout because she has overheard Mr. Cunningham and her father discuss the little land that he does own and the other acreage that is mortgaged.  When Scout alludes to this conversation in which Mr. Cunningham has paid a visit to Atticus in payment for services, giving Atticus some of his crop, the farmer becomes uncomfortable since his conscience now bothers him.  He looks away in shame as he feels guilty for threatened the kind man who has allowed him to offer food in payment for his legal services.

This individualizing of Mr. Cunningham, humanizes the entire mob. As Scout continues speaking of entailment, the men all look at her "with their mouths half-open."  Innocently, Scout draws all of them, including Atticus together as she says,

"Well, Atticus, I was just sayin' to Mr. Cunningham that entailments are bad an' all that, but you said not to worry...that you all'd ride it out together...."

Scout's use of entailment and her reminder of what Atticus has said ties all the people their together in their financial plight because of the Great Depression.  Now they are unified, and the men can no longer threaten one who is with them in spirit.

princessita-2-day | Student

entailment is to owe someone something and Mr.Cunningham owed Atticus so to pay off his entailments he gave Atticus food and fruits and all that so Scout knows about that so she asked him how he is managing to pay it off.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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