To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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In To Kill a Mockingbird, Chuck Little says, "Yessum," while talking about a head louse. What does this mean and what is the origin?

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In chapter 3, Little Chuck Little takes control of the situation when a head louse jumps out of Burris Ewell's hair and startles their teacher, Miss Caroline. When Miss Caroline points toward the head louse, Little Chuck Little says,

You mean him, ma’am? Yessum, he’s alive. Did he scare you some way? (Lee 26).

Little Chuck Little's use of the word "yessum" is an excellent example of Southern dialect and means "yes, Ma'am." Similar to many characters in the novel, Little Chuck Little speaks informally and utilizes a Southern dialect when he talks. In addition to using the word "yessum," Little Chuck employs several Southern colloquial expressions by referring to the head louse as a "cootie" and telling Miss Caroline not to "fret." Little Chuck Little then proceeds to defend his teacher against Burris Ewell, who calls her several derogatory names. Little Chuck then comforts Miss Caroline following the incident.

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troutmiller eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Little Chuck Little is one of the minor characters whom the reader can really enjoy--even though his character is only in just a few pages of the whole text.

Chuck is one of the students who fits oddly into the social classes.  He is poor like the Cunninghams, and he doesn't know "where his next meal was coming from." But unlike the Ewell family, he has manners.  He is very polite to Miss Caroline, offering her help back to the front of the room after her "cootie" incident, and he even offers to get her a cool glass of water.  With these manners, he also addresses her as "Ma'am."  So when he says, "Yessum, he's alive" he is saying Yes, Ma'am.  This spelling just gives the story its own southern slang style.  As the chapters progress, there will be plenty of more examples to give the reader auditory imagery with both slang and allusions to the past.  Tom Robinson will show his own personality through his slang/speech as well.

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