The United States is in the midst of the Great Depression when To Kill a Mockingbird takes place.
Atticus, Jem, and Scout have a conversation about Mr. Cunningham. She asks her father why the man pays them in firewood, turnip greens, and hickory nuts instead of cash for legal services. Atticus explains why:
"Because that's the only way he can pay me. He has no money."
"Are we poor, Atticus?"
Atticus nodded. "We are indeed."
Jem’s nose wrinkled. "Are we as poor as the Cunninghams?"
"Not exactly. The Cunninghams are country folks, farmers, and the crash hit them hardest."
Atticus said professional people were poor because the farmers were poor. As Maycomb County was farm country, nickels and dimes were hard to come by for doctors and dentists and lawyers... The acres not entailed were mortgaged to the hilt, and the little cash he made went to interest. If he held his mouth right, Mr. Cunningham could get a WPA job, but his land would go to ruin if he left it, and he was willing to...
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