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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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In To Kill A Mockingbird, Burrris Ewell. Walter Cunningham. and Chuck Little are from extremly poor families. However, there are great differences both in appearances and in attitudes particularly between the Cunninghams and Ewells. What are those differences and why do they exist in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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Within the setting of To Kill a Mockingbird during the Great Depression, there are many in Maycomb who are poor; even the Finches do not have the income they would normally have because many of the clients of Atticus cannot pay him in money; instead, they provide him with some of their crops. During this time of economic strain under the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, there was the creation of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a work-relief program which employed more than 8.5 million people. These people helped to create National Parks, they decorated 2,566 murals and 17,744 pieces of sculpture in and around federal buildings, and they built the Hoover Dam, bridges, etc. Nevertheless, there were not enough jobs for everyone who was in need, so some people received $10.00 a week from a state-relief program. An ex-social worker, Harry Hopkins headed the WPA. “Give a man a dole,” he observed, “and you save his body and destroy his spirit. Give him a job and you save both body and spirit."

In Maycomb, Alabama, the poor are thus divided among those who have too much pride to accept government assistance--much like the poor of today in the Appalachian Mountains who have what they call "mountain pride" which keeps them from accepting federal aid--the poor who go to work for the WPA, and the poor who accept public aid. Walter Cunningham comes from a family with the "mountain pride" that refuses to accept government assistance, even working for the WPA

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 go hungry to keep his land and vote as he pleased.

At school, when Miss Caroline sees that Walter Cunningham has no lunch, she offers to give him money to eat downtown, but Walter refuses it. Scout intervenes, explaining that the Cunninghams  

"never took anything they can't pay back,,,.they get along on what they have. They don't have much, but they get along on it."

On the other hand, Burris Ewell comes from a family with a shiftless father who not only takes a welfare check, but he spends it on liquor. Thus, as Hopkins said, his body is saved, but his soul is destroyed. Also poor is Chuck Little, but he has obviously been brought up with values, unlike Burris Ewell:

Little Chuck Little was another member of the population who did not know where his next meal was coming from, but he was a born gentleman.

Chuck Little defends Miss Caroline against the vituperation of Burris Ewell, who is filthy and has lice in his hair. Burris comes only on the first day of school, and when Miss Caroline tells him to go home and wash his hair with lye soap and kerosene to rid it of the "cooties," Burris unleashes insults upon her until Chuck Little intervenes.

From their behavior, it becomes apparent that Chuck Little's family has breeding, but they are now poor, perhaps because of the stock market crash. Walter Cunningham's family has "mountain pride" and does not accept handouts; instead, the Cunninghams make payment for things received by sharing their crops of doing something for someone. Burris Ewell, on the other hand, has a shiftless and neglectful father who does not make any demands of discipline upon his son. Bob Ewell, the father, is clearly what is known as "White Trash."

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