Compare and Contrast the Cunningham and Ewell Families

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Compare and Contrast the Cunningham and Ewell Families

In To Kill A Mockingbird, as an additional message to the main theme of the novel, Lee seeks to show two polar reactions to poverty, that of the Cunninghams and the Ewells. Her experience of the Great Depression was a major influence in the writing of the book, as she uses the contrast of these two families to show that there is hope for those in poverty, if people learn from the Ewells and emulate the Cunninghams. She introduces the values she considers to highlight the difference between the Cunninghams and Ewells, and uses this example to show that "Fine Folk" are not born into the position, but rather are considered as such on account of their qualities.

The position of "Fine Folks" is an issue debated throughout the novel, first raised when "Aunt Alexandra was of the opinion "that the longer a family had been squatting on one patch of land, the finer it was." This definition is clearly ridiculous, because "That makes the Ewells fine folks then", a family who are portrayed in possibly the most pejorative sense in the novel. Lee further shows the hypocrisy of Alexandra's statement when she mentions that "the Levy family met all criteria for being Fine Folks", except for being white, illustrating the invalidity of this definition. However, Scout "had received the impression that Fine Folks were people who did the best they could with the sense they had", a definition shown to be far more practical and robust than that of Alexandra. As this includes the Cunninghams but not the Ewells, it creates a contrast expanded upon throughout the novel.

Perhaps the strongest way that Lee conveys this contrast is through the way in which the two families are regarded by the Finches. As Jem says, "the kind like the Cunninghams out in the woods" have far more respect than "the kind like the Ewells down at the dump". Atticus recognises that "Mr Cunningham's basically a good man", even though he was the leader of Tom Robinson's lynch mob; in contrast "Atticus said [the Ewells] were absolute trash". Scout also shares this opinion, saying that "Walter['s]... not trash, Jem. He ain’t like the Ewells.” Harper Lee uses the Finches to illustrate this contrast, as they are shown throughout the novel to be unprejudiced and principled. It is interesting to note that the rest of Maycomb considers the Cunninghams to be almost equal with the Ewells. This is exemplified when Aunt Alexandra calls Walter Cunningham "trash", a term used often to describe the Ewells. This difference between them is further developed through various values Lee identifies with each family.

The first major difference in scruples is the Cunningham's strong sense of justice, juxtaposed with the Ewells' complete lack thereof. In chapter 15, when Scout helps Mr Cunningham to see sense, he realises that the mob has no right to lynch Tom, and has a strong enough moral virtue to enjoin the rest of the mob to "clear off". After this incident, Lee demonstrates that they have learned from this mistake, and will stand by the cause they consider to be right: we learn from Atticus that one of the Cunninghams, who was on the jury in the Robinson case, "took considerable wearing down" and that "in the beginning he was rarin' for an outright acquittal". This shows their change to a steadfast support of Tom, and that the Cunninghams are more morally upstanding than the rest of the population represented in the jury, as they are able to look beyond Tom's black skin to see an innocent man. In contrast to this, although the Ewells also know Tom is innocent, they choose to accuse him merely to hide Mayella's socially tabooed love of a black man. This iniquity confirms the Ewell's disregard for justice, a quality whose value is stressed throughout the book.

Ignominy and dignity are another set of contrasting values in the novel. This is illustrated in the classroom scene in Chapter 2, when each family is first introduced....
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