What are some quotes that show what people think about Walter Cunningham in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Walter Cunningham is the son of a poor farmer. He is in Scout’s grade, and, despite their differences in social class, the two are somewhat friends. 

Scout tells Miss Caroline not to lend Walter a quarter to buy lunch. Scout is trying to help Walter because Miss Caroline is new and does not really understand Maycomb's social structure. Scout says Miss Caroline will soon get to know the “country folk:”

The Cunninghams never took anything they can’t pay back—no church baskets and no scrip stamps. They never took anything off of anybody, they get along on what they have. They don’t have much, but they get along on it (Chapter 2).

Scout is trying to explain that, although the Cunninghams are poor, they are proud. She knows this because Atticus had Walter Cunningham, Sr. as a client and he explained to Scout that the Cunninghams were poor because they were farmers and times are difficult for farmers.

Scout invites Walter home for lunch, but finds she doesn’t really understand him. He talks like an adult and pours syrup over his entire dinner. Scout is upset when she is scolded for saying "he’s just a Cunningham.” Calpurnia tells Scout to treat Walter with respect.

Hush your mouth! Don’t matter who they are, anybody sets foot in this house’s yo‘ comp’ny, and don’t you let me catch you remarkin’ on their ways like you was so high and mighty! Yo‘ folks might be better’n the Cunninghams but it don’t count for nothin’ the way you’re disgracin‘ ’em (Chapter 3).

Not everyone feels this way about Walter; Aunt Alexandra calls Walter trash. Scout does not understand why Alexandra tells her not to play with Walter.

“I’ll tell you why,” she said. “Because—he—is—trash, that’s why you can’t play with him. I’ll not have you around him, picking up his habits and learning Lord-knows-what. You’re enough of a problem to your father as it is" (Chapter 23).

To Alexandra, a person’s social class and family name are very important. She tries to impress upon Scout that Walter Cunningham is not fit company for a Finch. This contradicts Atticus’s tendency to treat everyone with respect regardless of class.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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