From chapter 2 of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee:

Jem’s nose wrinkled. ‘Are we as poor as the Cunninghams?’

‘Not exactly. The Cunninghams are country folks, farmers, and the crash hit them hardest.’

Atticus said the professional people were poor because the the farmers were poor. As Maycomb County was farm country, nickels and dimes were hard to come by for doctors and dentists and lawyers. Entailment was only part of Mr Cunningham’s vexations. The acres not entailed were mortgaged to the hilt, and the little cash he made went to interest.

What does the passage in bold mean?

1 Answer 1


According to The Free Dictionary, the word "entail" means:

To abridge, settle, or limit succession to real property. An estate whose succession is limited to certain people rather than being passed to all heirs.

In real property, a fee tail is the conveyance of land subject to certain limitations or restrictions, namely, that it may only descend to certain specified heirs.

Basically, this was a way of preventing the land from being sold or inherited outside of the family.

The fact that the land was entailed evidently caused him some financial difficulty because he couldn't sell the land to raise cash. It would also mean that he wouldn't be able to borrow money against it, because the fact that he wasn't allowed to sell it would mean that he also couldn't use it as collateral. (That's why the book that says that the land that wasn't entailed was mortgaged to the hilt).

The book implies that he had consulted Atticus Finch on the entailment, which seems to suggest that he was actively trying to find a way to sell the land (or borrow against it) because he needed the money.

Another example of a similar legal arrangement is in Pride and Prejudice, where the land was entailed in such a way that only male family members could inherit it, so all of the Bennet daughters were being deprived of their sole source of income.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.