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Compare and Contrast the Cunningham and Ewell Families

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Compare and Contrast the Cunningham and Ewell Families

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  • March 2011
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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...