Who Is Walter Cunningham In To Kill A Mockingbird

Who Is Walter Cunningham In To Kill A Mockingbird?

In Harper Lee’s classic novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” one of the memorable characters is Walter Cunningham Jr. He comes from a poor family in Maycomb County and plays a significant role in the story. Through his interactions with the main characters, the reader gains insight into various themes, including social class, empathy, and the destructive power of prejudice.

Background and Social Class

Walter Cunningham Jr., a classmate of Scout Finch, the novel’s protagonist, belongs to a family that is struggling financially. The Cunninghams are known as the “poorest family in Maycomb” and are often unable to pay back loans or take part in social events due to their dire financial situation. Their poverty is emphasized multiple times in the novel, highlighting the social class divide within the town.

Despite their poverty, the Cunninghams have their own sense of pride and self-reliance. Mr. Cunningham, Walter’s father, refuses handouts and instead pays back his debts in the form of goods or services. This deep-rooted pride shapes Walter’s character and his behavior throughout the story.

Walter Cunningham’s Relationships

In “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Walter Cunningham’s interactions with the main characters shed light on his character and the values he holds dear. One of his most notable relationships is with Scout. When Scout tries to explain the reason behind Walter’s behavior to her teacher, Miss Caroline, Scout faces the consequences of misunderstanding and prejudice. Walter, despite being poor, shows his gratitude by repaying Scout’s kindness in the only way he knows, through a trade. This scene helps highlight the importance of empathy, understanding, and the danger of making assumptions based on social class.

Another crucial relationship Walter has is with Atticus Finch, Scout’s father. During the novel’s pivotal courtroom scene, Walter’s father, along with many other townspeople, forms part of a lynch mob intending to harm Tom Robinson, a black man unjustly accused of a crime. It is Walter’s innocent presence and his genuine exchange with Scout that ultimately disrupts the crowd and defuses the tension, reminding them of their shared humanity.

Walter Cunningham’s Symbolic Role

Walter Cunningham’s character also serves a symbolic purpose within the narrative. His representation of the oppressed during the historical setting of the novel allows the reader to reflect on the destructive nature of prejudice and discrimination.

Walter’s indomitable spirit in the face of poverty and adversity inspires Scout and the reader, highlighting the resilience of the human spirit. While his initial actions, such as pouring molasses on his food, may seem peculiar, they eloquently illustrate how different circumstances shape individuals.

Furthermore, Walter’s role in the lynch mob scene emphasizes that the suppression of prejudice and empathy can prevail over ignorance. His presence and his interactions with Scout shatter the mob’s unity, forcing them to question their morality and the motivations behind their actions.


Walter Cunningham Jr., a young boy from a poor family, plays an integral role in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Through his interactions with key characters, he showcases important themes such as social class, empathy, and the destructive power of prejudice. Walter’s character serves as a reminder that individuals should not be simply judged by their circumstances, but should be seen as complex individuals capable of growth and change. Ultimately, Walter’s experiences contribute to the novel’s broader exploration of human morality and the resilience of the human spirit.

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