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In Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird, the character of Walter Cunningham, Sr. (his son, Walter Cunningham, Jr., is one of Scout’s classmates) plays a major role in one of the story’s most intense scenes. The Cunningham’s, like many in this fictional Depression-era small Southern town of Maycomb, Alabama, are seriously poor, evident in Scout’s description of Walter, Jr.’s, lack of shoes (“If Walter had owned any shoes he would have worn them the first day of school”). The boy’s father, Walter, Sr., is a leader of the lynch mob that confronts Atticus in front of the town jail, inside of which the crippled African American wrongly accused of raping a white woman, Tom Robinson, is being held. On page 39 of the edition of Lee’s novel consulted – specifically, the Grand Central Publishing “50th Anniversary” edition issued in paperback – the following passage occurs, in which Atticus is teaching Scout about the importance of trying to understand the roots of other people’s prejudices and perspectives with particular reference to the Cunninghams:
You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view-”
“-until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Atticus’s admonition to Scout that you never really know a person until you walk in that person’s shoes, or skin, is theme repeated throughout To Kill a Mockingbird, including with reference to Mrs. Dubose, the frail, elderly bigot in whose presence Jem learns about compassion and tolerance. It is the story Walter, Jr., however, that provides the opportunity for Scout to apply this concept in real life. It is in Chapter 23 that Atticus, the trial of Tom Robinson having been concluded with the expected conviction of the obviously innocent man, that Scout’s growing maturity is evident. Having been informed by Atticus that one of the Cunningham clan had not only sat on the jury that voted to convict Tom but that it was almost certainly that member of the Cunningham’s who was inclined to vote for acquittal, Scout notes that she is proud for having to rushed to the defense of Walter, Jr. during that earlier classroom issue surrounding the latter’s lack of shoes. Scout’s declaration that she hopes to have Walter, Jr., over to play, however, provokes an argument with her Aunt Alexandra, whose views on class and cultural distinctions runs afoul of Scout’s increasingly tolerant manner. Unwilling to accept her aunt’s rejection of the idea of having the Cunningham boy visit their home, Alexandra finally reveals the prejudices within her:
She took off her glasses and stared at me. “I’ll tell you why,” she said. “Because— he—is—trash, that’s why you can’t play with him.”
For purposes of answering the student’s question, the page number of the edition consulted is 39, and is in Chapter 3. That page number may vary, however, depending upon the edition used.
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