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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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What do you think of the way Atticus treats Walter in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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Atticus treats Walter with the same courtesy and consideration that he shows to everyone, regardless of age, color, creed, or family background. Walter Cunningham's family is extremely poor, which might lead others in the town to snub him and look down on him, but not Atticus. Atticus's treatment of Walter is just one of the many instances in the novel which illustrate his sterling qualities. He treats everyone equally and fairly. He has sound moral principles that he continually puts into practice.

Atticus's attitude towards Walter of course contrasts sharply with that of his sister, Alexandra. Alexandra is constantly preoccupied with family heritage and status and looks down on Walter for being "trash." Scout finds this out when she wants to play with Walter and is strictly forbidden by her aunt to do so. Not that Alexandra doesn't want Scout to be nice to him—she just doesn't want her niece to mix with someone whom she considers to be beneath the Finch family's dignity. Alexandra's snobbish attitude is probably more representative of Maycomb attitudes as a whole than Atticus's more enlightened outlook. 

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I think that the way Atticus treats Walter shows that he respects people of all kinds, including children and the poor.  It also shows that he can get along well with almost everyone, and is knowledgeable on many subjects.

While Walter piled food on his plate, he and Atticus talked together like two men, to the wonderment of Jem and me. (ch 3, pg. 24)

Atticus is able to talk to Walter about farming.  He also treats him like a grown man, as Scout notes.  When Walter asks for molasses to pour on his dinner, Atticus doesn’t skip a beat, although it upsets Scout.  Walter is company, and Atticus treats him that way.  It does not matter to him that Walter is a child, or that he is only the son of a poor farmer.  To Atticus, people are people.

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Atticus has great respect for the Cunninghams.  Both the Ewells and the Cunninghams were poor, but they handled it differently.  The Ewells were third generation welfare folk, and they lived off the government.  They broke the law concerning hunting because the father was always gambling. 

In contrast the Cunningham's were farmers.  Atticus explains to Scout that

"The Cunninghams are country folks, farmers, and the crash hit them hardest." (pg 21)

Even Scout, at the age of nine, knows that the Cunninghams were proud people.  She explains to Miss Caroline,

"The Cunninghams never took anything they can't pay back ---no church basket 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." (pg 20)

Atticus respects this.  When Walter comes for lunch, Atticus talks to him as if he is an adult.  They discuss farm problems, and Walter tells Atticus that the reason he did not finish first grade was because,

"I've had to stay out ever' spring an' help Papa with the...

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choppin' but there's another'n at the house now that's field size." (pg 24)

Atticus realizes that Walter has had to grow up too fast.  He respects what he has done and expects Scout to respect it too.  

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Atticus's treatment of Walter is a great deviation from Scout's perception that "He's not company....He's just a Cunningham." Atticus treats Walter as a guest in the house, and converses with him about topics such as agriculture, which he knows that Walter is familiar with.

Despite the fact that the Cunninghams are one of the poorest families in town, he is nonetheless treated as if he is no different than any other middle-to-upper-class guest. This gesture shows Atticus's refinement and gentlemanly qualities. A less cultured person would not have been so inviting.

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When Walter goes home for lunch with Jem and Scout, Atticus treats him like a man.  They talk about "grown up" farming stuff.  Atticus began the discussion because he knows it's polite to talk to/with people about what they are interested in.  Walter will never do well in school, so academics would not be a good topic.  Atticus stuck to what Walter knew well.  That shows he has respect for little Walter.  This shows that there is no "class system" in the Finch household.  The link proves this.

Also, when Scout made fun of his eating his lunch with syrup all over it, Atticus was not the one to jump down her throat.  Calpunia stepped in.  Atticus remained in the background and then carried on their conversation as Scout was taken off by Cal.

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