What is an example of a major external and interpersonal conflict the main character Scout endures in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One important event that conflicted Scout externally and inter-personally was the day when Walter Cunningham was invited to have lunch at the Finches'.

Through Walter (both Junior and Senior), Scout experiences some deep life lessons. Let's first look at three of those big lessons and then go back to the one event about the lunch.

First, it is important to understand that Walter Cunningham Jr. serves an important role in the novel in relation to Scout.

He is a window into the many different lifestyles of the white families of Maycomb. It is through Walter Jr. that Scout learns three huge lessons. First, that in Maycomb your family name precedes how you will be treated in society. Second, (Calpurnia's advice) that regardless of how society chooses to treat any family, Scout needs to be tolerant and accept everyone. Third, that the Finches have, in aunt Alexandra, the same potential to judge, be biased and discriminate against people. Remember that Aunt Alexandra forbade Scout from playing with Walter because he was a Cunningham, and the Cunninghams were "trash".

Back to the lunch incident, it would be an external conflict because, prior to learning her many lessons, Scout was also biased against Walter Jr.

In Chapter 3, Scout is physically attacking Walter Jr. after he supposedly got her "started off in the wrong foot" with Miss Caroline as a result of Scout's defending Walter.  At Jem's request, Scout moves away from Walter and the latter is invited to dine with the family.

At the house, Scout notices Walter's wild ways with food. He comes from a poor family that often goes hungry. Oblivious, Scout makes mean remarks and is highly critical of Walter. Her comments and observations make Atticus and Calpurnia upset. When Calpurnia scolds Scout the first time, she reminds her that Walter is "company" and needs to be well-treated to which Scout responds with a very degrading:

He ain’t company, Cal, he’s just a Cunningham-

It is here when Scout's external conflict of having Walter over as a guest (which she does not like) turns into an interpersonal conflict. Calpurnia's ensuing rant makes Scout recognize her own bias and how badly her thoughts about Walter reflect on her and on the Finches.

Hush your mouth!....anybody sets foot in this house's yo' comp'ny, and don't you let me catch you remarking' on their ways like you was so high and mighty! Yo' folks might be better'n the Cunningham's but it don't count for nothin' the way you're disgracin' 'em- if you can't act fit to eat at the table you can just set here and eat in the kitchen!

We know from Scout, as an older narrator reminiscing on this incident, that this was, indeed, a lesson learned;  one which shook the foundation of everything that Scout felt. Calpurnia caused this interpersonal conflict by pointing out Scout's behavior. As a result, Scout's perspective was shaken, and this is when it becomes the actual "conflict" of what she knew then versus what Calpurnia has just taught her at that point. Even Atticus admits to Scout that this day she has learned several lessons, and that all have to do with imagining walking in someone else's shoes prior to judging them. We know that this is one of Atticus's most repetitive tenets, and points clearly to the fact that Scout indeed learned about the importance of tolerance and kindness.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

An example of an external conflict that Scout has of an interpersonal nature is her conflict with Miss Caroline, her first grade teacher.

An external conflict is a conflict between a character and an outside force.  In a character vs. character conflict, or an interpersonal conflict, a character has a problem with another character.

Scout is looking forward to starting school.  She is intelligent and precocious, and she has watched her brother go off without getting to go herself.  Unfortunately, her enthusiasm for school is dampened by conflict with her first grade teacher, Miss Caroline.

Before the first morning was over, Miss Caroline Fisher, our teacher, hauled me up to the front of the room and patted the palm of my hand with a ruler, then made me stand in the corner until noon. (ch 2)

The biggest conflict between them is that Scout tries to educate Miss Caroline on Maycomb and its citizens, and Miss Caroline does not appreciate the education.  Scout is just trying to help, but Miss Caroline does not know what to do with her because she knows how to read already, and she tries to be informative.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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