"I thought [he] was a friend of ours." (Lee 157) The words of Scout Finch in that quote put a worthy question to her father, Atticus. The events that occurred in the second third of the book gave way to many questions of the personalities and beliefs of the people in the little town Maycomb. Their actions seemed to open to changes or prejudices in themselves that caught Scout off-guard. Scout, a young girl of eight years old, was puzzled at the ferocity of people and constantly asked her father about why her familiars acted so unfairly. How was she to know the underlying prejudices of people against Negroes? How could people she had lived with all her life suddenly unmask such an unfair side of their personalities? Mr. Cunningham had been a faithful abiding citizen in Maycomb for as long as Scout could remember, and Atticus had even helped him in a time of need.
How was it possible that a man, presumed to be so virtuous, could go to an arrested Negro's jail cell with intentions of hurting the prisoner? Mr. Cunningham is representative of prejudices and personality of the people in Maycomb.
Mr. Cunningham appears with a group of men one night at the jail cell of Tom Robinson, a Negro, with malignant intentions. When Atticus places himself between the men and Tom, Mr. Cunningham still stands against him, even though Atticus had served help to him in an emergency and was proved to be a very honorable man. This is similar to cases of everyone else in Maycomb. Other citizens saw Atticus as a man of virtue and respect, yet became overcome by their own prejudices and racist sentiments. Even a man that owed much to Atticus would stand against him for the sake of his personality and upraising. Each citizen, showing disapproval for Atticus's actions, seemed to neglect to weigh the importance of one's virtue, and oneself's opinions. Mr. Cunningham does just this as he appears in the mob that night at Tom Robinson's jail cell. He himself stands against Atticus, even though his past background had never shown any malice towards Atticus, even more so, he had shown gratitude. Prejudices awakened sides of people nobody had predicted, as in Mr. Cunningham. Sometimes, a person's depth cannot be judged by their respect toward another, in that their own beliefs and personalities might interfere.
Another reason Mr. Cunningham represents the people of Maycomb is that he also humbles and doesn't non-chalantly accuse Atticus of wrongdoing. He withdraws, uncertain of his own actions. Some citizens in Maycomb are unable to bring themselves to accuse Atticus to his face. Instead, they jeer at Jem and Scout. Mr. Cunningham's son even taunts Scout, calling her father names. However, Mr. Cunningham himself never directs any harsh words towards Atticus. Mr. Cunningham, as well as other citizens, has enough reverence towards Atticus to be ashamed to directly insult him. However, insulting his children is much easier to do, as they were never approved of and did not hold any high place in the minds of anyone. People who are uncertain tend to find an indirect approach to insult when he or she finds him/herself unable to directly taunt a man of such reverence as Atticus. This weakness seems to be satisfied when they give their ill thoughts to Jem and Scout. They have to show disapproval somehow, and because they cannot approach Atticus directly, they instead attack Jem and Scout. Mr. Cunningham had enough resolve to show up that night at the jail, but that inability to be completely direct had faulted him and Scout was enough to make him depart without taking any action. This approach, yet held-back stature of Mr. Cunningham was the epitome of other citizens. If Atticus had visible and prominent faults, the prejudice within people would bring those faults out as justification of their actions toward him and Atticus could be readily accused without hesitation. Those who had too much shame to accuse a man so revered had to withdraw and attack from afar.
In conclusion, the tempered Mr. Cunningham showed some citizens of Maycomb did indeed think twice about accusing Atticus. When blatantly accusing someone who wasn't widely ridiculed, one made him/herself stand out from the crowd of thoughts. This would be too similar to what Atticus himself was doing, and the people could not allow themselves to be placed with Atticus. Mr. Cunningham, however, showed himself not to be completely set against Atticus, because of the man he was and the citizen he was.