In "To Kill a Mockingbird", why won't Mr. Cunningham work for the WPA?

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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The initials "WPA" stand for Works Progress Administration.  The Works Progress Administration was a government program set up by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression.  The program was supposed to create jobs for many unemployed people.  It did this by paying them to do a variety of things like building bridges and town recreation centers and things like that.

Mr. Cunningham doesn't want to work for the WPA for two reasons.  First, he doesn't want his land to go to waste (because he wouldn't be able to work on it).  Second, he doesn't want to have to suck up to someone to get the job.

troutmiller's profile pic

troutmiller | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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He was trying for the first time to be a part of Maycomb county.  However, that backfired.  It wasn't really that he wouldn't work, but he was just so lazy and accustomed to doing whatever he wanted whenever he wanted that he they had to fire him.  The man is just plain lazy. He spends his wellfare checks on booze instead of providing for his kids.  Perhaps he even applied for the job simply to be fired so that he could blame Atticus.  He was that upset with him that he was willing to go out of his way to tarnish his name.  Besides, why work for a little money when he can get it from the government for free each week?  That's always been his attitude.

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mkcapen1 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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In the book "To Kill a Mockingbird" the events take place during the depression.  America was suffering all over and jobs were few and far between.  People lined up in long lines seeking food and assistance.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his advisors created the program called "The New Deal."  Part of the program included the development of an administration Works Progress Administration (WPA).  The goal was to develop jobs for Americans by building highways, increasing government construction, slum clearance, reforestation, and rehabilitation in rural areas.  Many people resented the program because it was poorly managed, demonstrated political favoritism, and waste of resources.

An uneducated man like Cunningham probably identified the government run programs as a form of welfare.  Scout expresses the Cuningham's stand on welfare programs when she says to her new teacher:

"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." (20)