In chapter 3 of To Kill a Mockingbird, what lesson does Calpurnia try to teach Scout about Walter?

In chapter 3 of To Kill a Mockingbird, Calpurnia tries to teach Scout the importance of exercising hospitality and respect towards her company. Calpurnia also teaches Scout an important lesson on humility and how to appropriately treat others regardless of their social status or reputation.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In chapter 3, Atticus invites Walter Cunningham to stay for dinner. We have previously met Walter in Scout's first-grade classroom when he shows up without a lunch but won't take a quarter from the teacher to buy one. This refusal establishes the Cunninghams as part of the respectable poor in Maycomb who won't take a handout.

At dinner, Scout is horrified and critical when Walter pours molasses all over his meal. She has learned enough about middle-class habits to know this behavior is odd. Calpurnia, however, pulls Scout into the kitchen angrily to tell her to never be so impolite as to criticize another person's eating habits, especially if they are of a lower class than you: hospitality means putting other people at their ease, not making them feel uncomfortable.

This episode has a comic quality, but it functions on multiple levels to educate the reader about Maycomb. First, it continues to establish the Cunninghams as the worthy poor in the class hierarchy, which will later become important when the focus shifts to the audience needing to understand why the Ewells are considered white trash.

Further, Lee is showing that color and true class don't necessarily go hand in hand. Calpurnia may be Black, but she shows much more genuine class than Aunt Alexandra will later when she refuses even to have Walter to dinner because she feels he is a bad influence on Scout. Lee teaches through this episode that white feelings of superiority on the basis of being white are misplaced.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Calpurnia teaches Scout a lesson on hospitality, humility, and respect when she chastises her in the kitchen for making a rude, inappropriate comment about Walter Cunningham Jr.'s unusual eating habits. After Scout embarrasses Walter Cunningham Jr. in front of their family at the dinner table, Calpurnia calls her into the kitchen and fiercely whispers,

There's some folks who don't eat like us... but you ain't called on to contradict 'em at the table when they don't. That boy's yo' comp'ny and if he wants to eat up the table cloth you let him, you hear?

Even though Calpurnia is the Finch family's African American cook, she is an integral member of the Finch family, and Atticus gives her permission to reprimand his children, which is exactly what she does to Scout.

Calpurnia teaches Scout a lesson on how to appropriately treat her company regardless of their social status or reputation. Calpurnia explains to Scout that anyone invited to their home is considered company and she should go out of her way to accommodate them rather than "disgracin' 'em." Scout learns that a hospitable host should also treat their company with respect and spare them from humiliation or embarrassment.

Scout also learns a lesson on humility when Calpurnia encourages her to not act so "high and mighty." Calpurnia's message challenges Scout to recognize her own flaws and treat others the way she would want to be treated. Following their brief conversation in the kitchen, Scout retrieves her plate from the dining room and finishes her meal in the kitchen.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Chapter 3, Walter Cunningham Jr. has dinner with the Finch family, and Scout is disgusted when he pours syrup all over his meal. Scout embarrasses Walter at the dinner table by rudely asking him what the "sam hill" he is doing. Calpurnia then requests Scout's presence in the kitchen and proceeds to reprimand Scout for her rude behavior. Calpurnia tells Scout that she has no right to contradict Walter for his eating habits and teaches Scout a lesson in respect. Cal explains to Scout that Walter is considered her company and she needs to treat him with the utmost respect. Cal tells Scout that it doesn't matter if her family is considered "better" than the Cunninghams; Scout needs to treat Walter courteously and equally. Cal also warns Scout not to act "high and mighty" around her guests by disgracing them, or she will have to eat in the kitchen. Calpurnia essentially teaches Scout a lesson in manners, respect, and equality. She encourages Scout to view Walter as an equal and treat him the same way she would want to be treated. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Calpurnia tries to teach Scout that Walter was a guest in her home, and just because he is of a lower class, he is not to be treated as such. Calpurnia wants to make it known that a guest is to be treated cordially no matter what their social or economic class, and it is up to the host to make them comfortable.Calpurnia lets Scout know that it is wrong to try to point out a guest's behavior as inappropriate. This is evident when Walter pours syrup all over his lunch, and Scout embarrasses him by laughing out loud. Scout does not understand why it is not acceptable, as it is just "Walter" and he is a "Cunningham". Calpurnia tells her she was the one in the wrong, not Walter.Scout is punished for being impolite and is kept in the kitchen for the remainder of the meal.

Scout later complains to Atticus of Calpurnia's grievous error in punishing her, but Atticus not only supports Calpurnia, but reinforces the lesson as well.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial