What lessons and values does Walter Cunningham Jr. teach Scout Finch throughout the novel To Kill A Mockingbird?
Scout learns several important lessons and values from her interactions with Walter Cunningham Jr. throughout the novel. At the beginning of the novel, Jem stops Scout from beating Walter up on the playground at school and invites Walter over for dinner. While Walter is eating dinner, he begins to pour syrup over his meal and Scout openly criticizes him. Calpurnia talks to Scout in the kitchen and explains the importance of showing respect to Walter and not judging him. She teaches Scout that everyone deserves to be respected, regardless of social class. Scout learns the importance of having manners and respecting others from Walter's visit.
In Chapter 23, Atticus explains the Cunninghams' family background to his children and tells them that the Cunninghams have integrity and morals. Scout learns that character is not associated with wealth. The fact that Walter Cunningham Jr. comes from a poor family does not mean that he is not a morally upright individual. Scout mentions that she was glad that she had defended Walter Cunningham Jr. on the first day of school after hearing that his relative initially supported Tom Robinson and that Walter came from a good family. Walter Cunningham Jr. indirectly teaches Scout the significance of being kind and helpful to others. Scout learns that her good deeds can have positive effects in the future and are not overlooked.
To Kill a Mockingbird presents the complex social structure existing in fictional Maycomb, Alabama during the 1930s. The novel includes details from the lives of two white families on the bottom rungs of the socioeconomic ladder: the Ewells and the Cunninghams.
Though they occupy similar strata of society, over the course of the novel the reader learns that the two family groups have very contrasting values. Consider the scene during Scout's first day of school. Both Walter Cunningham Jr. and Burris Ewell are unprepared, lacking shoes and lunch. However, Walter has the integrity to refuse to accept a loan as he knows he won't be able to pay it back. Burris, on the other hand, makes the teacher cry with his cruelty (a cruelty that foreshadows the climactic scene in the courtroom) and doesn't return for the duration of the school year.
But the lesson here isn't necessarily the integrity, it is Scout's growing understanding that the social hierarchy in Maycomb considers more than just skin color. When Walter dines with Scout, Calpurnia encourages her to show compassion toward him. Later, Aunt Alexandra refuses to let Scout play with Walter due to his social standing. Very literally, for Scout, young Walter reveals that social conflict in Maycomb is more complicated than just black and white.