To Kill a Mockingbird Questions and Answers
by Harper Lee

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Please describe Walter Cunningham in To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Unfortunately you asked two questions, so I had to edit it down to one. The readers meet Walter Cunningham in chapter two of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. Walter is one of Scout Finch's first-grade classmates, and this is not his first time to start first grade.

At lunchtime, Miss Caroline (the teacher) asks who has their lunches, and Walter does not raise his hand because he does not have a lunch. He did not forget it. He is finally forced to lie to her, saying he forgot his lunch; in fact, he does not have a lunch because his family is poor.

Walter Cunningham’s face told everybody in the first grade he had hookworms. His absence of shoes told us how he got them. People caught hookworms going barefooted in barnyards and hog wallows. If Walter had owned any shoes he would have worn them the first day of school and then discarded them until mid-winter. He did have on a clean shirt and neatly mended overalls.

Miss Caroline does not understand any of this and wants to loan him a quarter to buy lunch, something every child in the room knows Walter will not accept because they know the Cunninghams. 

Scout is elected by the class to try to explain it to Miss Caroline.

“Miss Caroline, he’s a Cunningham.”
I sat back down.
“What, Jean Louise?”
I thought I had made things sufficiently clear. It was clear enough to the rest of us: Walter Cunningham was sitting there lying his head off. He didn’t forget his lunch, he didn’t have any. He had none today nor would he have any tomorrow or the next day. He had probably never seen three quarters together at the same time in his life. I tried again: “Walter’s one of the Cunninghams, Miss Caroline.”
“I beg your pardon, Jean Louise?”
“That’s okay, ma’am, you’ll get to know all the county folks after a while. 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.”

Scout gets in trouble for this and takes it out on Walter on the playground at noon. Jem invites Walter to come home with him and Scout for lunch, and Scout gets in trouble again. She and Jem are amazed that Walter can talk with Atticus about farms and land and hunting (things they know very little about), and Walter explains that he has not been able to finish first grade because he was needed on the farm. Scout is appalled that Walter asks for molasses and pours it over all his food. Obviously she is tolerant of the Cunninghams in some areas but not others. 

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