How does Lee make Scout's first day of school revealing and entertaining?

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Harper Lee uses Scout's first day of school to not only describe what type of children and families live in Maycomb but to comment on the rigidity of the education system. Lee introduces us to Scout's rough group of peers and adds humor by saying,

"Miss Caroline seemed unaware that the ragged, denim-shirted and floursack-skirted first grade, most of whom had chopped cotton and fed hogs from the time they were able to walk, were immune to imaginative literature." (Lee 22)

Lee reveals that many of Scout's classmates are hard-working country folks who don't value literature like the Finches. When Miss Caroline learns that Scout can read, she tells her not to read at home with her father anymore because it would "interfere" with her reading. This scene reveals the rigidity of the education system because Miss Caroline did not attempt to facilitate Scout's advanced abilities. Lee adds humor to the scene once again when Scout claims that she's been reading since birth and says,

"Jem says I was. He read in a book where I was a Bullfinch instead of a Finch. Jem says my name's really Jean Louise Bullfinch, that I got swapped when I was born and I'm really a---" (Lee 22)

During recess, Jem asks Scout how she is doing and Scout says,

"If I didn't have to stay I'd leave. Jem, that damn lady says Atticus's been teaching me to read and for him to stop it---" (Lee 23)

I've always found this moment amusing because picturing a first-grader curse is always funny. After Scout gets yelled at again for writing a letter to Dill, she attempts to defend Walter Cunningham when he refuses to accept Miss Caroline's quarter. Lee reveals Walter Cunningham's family background, when Scout recounts her "special knowledge" of his family. Scout says,

"Miss Caroline, he's a Cunningham." (Lee 26)

This is another funny moment throughout the chapter because Scout thinks her minimal explanation is sufficient. Miss Caroline punishes Scout by giving her a dozen pats on her palm, which makes the class laugh.

When Walter is invited to eat with the Finches, Scout's reaction to his dining habits is priceless. She says, "But he's gone and drowned his dinner in syrup...He's poured it all over---" (Lee 32) Scout's attitude is revealed by her reaction to Calpurnia's chastening when she says,

"She like Jem better'n she likes me, anyway. I concluded, and suggested that Atticus lose no time in packing her off." (Lee 33)

When the children return to school, a "cootie" crawls out of Burris Ewell's hair. Scout's description of Burris Ewell is rather amusing when she says,

"He was the filthiest human I had ever seen." (Lee 35)

Harper Lee reveals the negative attitude and lack of respect the Ewells have towards their fellow community members. This is important knowledge because later on in the novel the reader is introduced to Burris' father, Bob Ewell, who is the main antagonist of the novel.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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