To Kill a Mockingbird

July 23, 2011
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The Cunninghams were a family consisted of relatively poor farm folk. Mr. Cunningham could’ve easily lived a decent life style by choosing to just sell his farm and find a “regular” job. However, this man showed us the dignity of the Cunningham family. He showed that he treasured things such as heritage and dignity more than money. Furthermore, traditionally, “the Cunninghams never took anything they [couldn’t] take back,” (Lee 20). This was proven when Walter Cunningham refused to accept a quarter Miss Caroline had presented to him for buying a lunch. Constantly, Walter’s reply was “Nome thank you ma’am.” (Lee 19). Since they had no money to spare, the Cunninghams preferred to the ancient and unusual method of barter. When Atticus abetted the Cunninghams in a court case, they didn’t repay with cash. Instead, “one morning, Jem and [Scout] found a load of stovewood in the back yard. Later, a sack of hickory nuts appeared on the back steps. With Christmas came a crate of smilax and holly. That spring when [they] found a crockersack full of turnip greens, Atticus said Mr. Cunningham had more than paid him,” (Lee 20-21). Thus, you can see how this family also had unusual, but honest way of repayment. The Cunninghams were somewhat racist group. This was displayed when Mr. Cunningham and his “gang” crowded up at the Maycomb County Jail to beat up Tom Robinson, an African-American who was alleged of rape.
However, the events of their life led the family to change over a period of time. To begin with, it is essential to know that entailments are to limit your property so they can only be inherited by a specific line of descendants. When Scout confronted Mr. Cunningham at the jail, she mentioned her son and entailments at the same time. Whatever memories this may have brought up, Mr. Cunningham “squatted down and took [Scout] by both shoulders,” (Lee 154) before leaving, which is clearly a gesture of affection. This proves that Mr. Cunningham was governed by a conscience, as he seemed to be thinking that he was a father who had a son to tend to; a father who, instead of being a role model, decided to take up the position of a gangster. It also suggests that the Cunningham family wasn’t racist to the extreme unlike some Maycomb county residents. When Mr. Cunningham was attempting to settle the internal tug-of-war between racism (beating up Tom Robinson) and being a true father, he allowed “being a true father” to take over, displaying his opinions about the importance of being racist. Either way, Mr. Cunningham left the room with a greater respect for the Finches and with a minor, if not major depletion of racism. During the end of the trial is when a major decrease in racism for the Cunningham family was displayed. One of the Cunninghams was the sole purpose that the “‘jury took a few hours [while] usually it takes [them] a few minutes’” (Lee 222) to make its verdict. He alone fought for Tom Robinson’s rights and “’took considerable wearing down’” (Lee 222) before succumbing to the rest of the jury. This shows how much less racist the Cunninghams were than they used to be, and how firm they were if they had respect for you. All in all, the Cunninghams live up to their name. They could be cunning, like when they sent Heck Tate on a snipe hunt before proceeding to Maycomb County Jail, but they are also like ham, waiting to be thoroughly relished and enjoyed for their dissimilar opinions and life styles.

On an abstract level, the Cunninghams represent self-dignity. The Cunninghams weren’t the people you’d meet on a daily basis. In fact, that was why they were such an important part in the book. If you look at the Cunninghams’ life style, there is no doubt they are completely different from Maycomb County’s stereotypical life. However, they don’t let this transform their lives. They know their limits, and obstruct society from interrupting with their codes. For instance, Mr. Cunningham could’ve easily thrown away his land to gain money, pay off debts, get a job, and live the normal life. Walter Cunningham could’ve simply waved away, accepted Miss Caroline’s quarter, eaten a hearty lunch, and made up a c***-and-bull story the next day explaining why he didn’t have the money with him. The Cunningham in the jury could’ve simply consented that Tom Robinson was guilty, saving himself a couple of hours while earning a better name in society. The Cunninghams didn’t have to lead such an unusual and complex life. Then why did they do it? The answer lies within the meaning of acceptance. When you accept a fact, you know that it is true, and you withstand influence to your highest extent. The Cunninghams accepted that they were unique. They had their limits, and as a Cunningham, it was their duty to follow these limits. Though society may not agree with these folks, the Cunninghams were ok with it, and deeply cratered the idea that this was who they were and you couldn’t do anything about it. In fact, they began to influence others! “He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good-luck pennies, and our lives. But neighbors give in return. We never put back into the tree what we took out of it: we had given him nothing, and it made me sad.” (Lee 278) This shows that Scout is thinking like the Cunninghams. While regular neighbors may probably have forgotten about the items, Scout remembered that she was in debt. Scout was actually worried, similar to Mr. Cunningham, who was unsure “when [he’ll] ever be able to pay [Atticus].” (Lee 20) Like the Cunninghams, Scout started to not only record her debts on a piece of paper, but to permanently etch it into her heart. From this incident, we can all learn that self-dignity is the key to lead a peaceful and self-satisfactory life. It starts from accepting that you have only one life and you are not living that life for others. Sooner or later, you are going to realize that you are not going to be happy because society thought you did something noteworthy, but because you thought you did something honorable. You will be more content with following your own codes and limits rather than those established by society. Similar to the Cunninghams who have ostensibly interpreted this, you must always stand your ground, giving in to others only when you are stretched beyond the extreme, and only after you have threw out your opinion and incessantly supported it. If we follow the Cunninghams’ example, at the end of the day, we can peacefully fall asleep knowing that it was not others’ lifestyles that governed you, but your dignity, your self-respect, and your boundaries that influenced others.

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