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Burris is Scout's dirty, foul-mouthed first grade classmate in Harper Lee's novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Burris only appears in one scene, but we can see clearly that, unfortunately, the son of Bob Ewell is a chip off the ol' block.
He was the filthiest human I had ever seen. His neck was dark gray, the backs of his hands were rusty, and his fingernails were black deep into the quick.
The new teacher, Miss Caroline, nearly fainted when she saw a "cootie" traversing through the boy's unwashed hair. When Miss Caroline suggested that he bathe before coming back to school the next day, he "laughed rudely" at her and then threatened her. The gallant Little Chuck Little reached for his knife to protect his teacher, but Burris didn't stay around much longer. He called Miss Caroline a " 'snot-nosed slut' " before heading home for good.
Burris makes only one appearance in the novel, in chapter 3, but it is enough to establish his character as a smaller version of his father Bob, who appears later in the book as the chief villain of the piece. His depiction is both humorous and grim. The humour comes from the fact of a louse crawling out of his hair that terrifies the teacher Miss Caroline, although her students are quite blase about it. Also he only comes to school on the first day in order to satisfy the absolute minimum of requirements for school attendance.
However, although Burris is grimy and unkempt, the real negative aspect to his presentation is an element of viciousness that clearly comes through. He takes delight in genuinely upsetting his teacher. He isn't just impertinent, he wants to actually hurt her; it is said that 'he waited until he was sure she was crying' before slouching out the door. This foreshadows the active malevolence of his father later in the book. It is left to Miss Caroline's other students to try and comfort her, which they do rather well, as they are a genuinely kind-hearted bunch. Burris Ewell seems to be the only real bad apple.
Poor Burris Ewell. He is definitely a product of his environment. He lives next door to the dump, has an abusive father, and there is very little hope for a bright future. He has taken on the qualities of his father; he is mean, abusive, and ignorant. Like his father, he has a nasty reputation with his peers and intentionally makes Miss Caroline cry on the first day of school. He comes to school on the first day only because the law requires it. He is dirty and has a head full of lice. He has probably been abused like his other seven brothers and sisters, and Burris must scavenge for basic necessities in the town dump. Burris’ mother’s whereabouts is unknown; she is either dead or has run off from her abusive situation. He has been raised by his sister, Mayella, and has probably not experienced much love or affection.
In the novel, Burris Ewell and his family are symbols of southern white poverty where the need to survive causes them to do desperate things for respect and power. This is also shown through Bob Ewell's attack on Scout and Jem, through his beating of Mayella, and through accusing Tom Robinson of rape. Burris is just following in his father's footsteps.
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