Why Does Scout Stand Up For Walter

In To Kill a Mockingbird, why does Scout explain Walter Cunningham's situation to Miss Caroline?

Expert Answers

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

Scout explains to her teacher Miss Caroline that Walter is too proud to borrow money because she tries to lend him a quarter for lunch.

Miss Caroline is not from Maycomb. She is from Northern Alabama and does not understand how things work. When Miss Caroline sees that Walter has...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Scout explains to her teacher Miss Caroline that Walter is too proud to borrow money because she tries to lend him a quarter for lunch.

Miss Caroline is not from Maycomb. She is from Northern Alabama and does not understand how things work. When Miss Caroline sees that Walter has no lunch, she tries to lend him a quarter and he won’t take it. When she does not get the message and keeps asking, someone tells Scout to explain.

I turned around and saw most of the town people and the entire bus delegation looking at me. Miss Caroline and I had conferred twice already, and they were looking at me in the innocent assurance that familiarity breeds understanding. (ch 2)

The other children seem to think that Scout is going to be able to explain, because she has tried to do so before. Since Scout is the daughter of a lawyer, and quiet precocious, she seems to be the person for the job.

Of course, Miss Caroline does not really appreciate Scout’s guidance. It is her first day, and she is a new teacher. Apparently when they taught her the Dewey system they forgot to mention that the first rule of teaching is to get to know your students and the community.

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

Scout had already spoken to Miss Caroline that first day about her reading.  When Miss Caroline asked Walter about his lunch, the other kids looked to Scout.  She says,

"I turned around and saw most of the town people and the entire bus delegation looking at me.  Miss Caroline and I had conferred twice already and they were looking at me in the innocent assurance that familiarity breeds understanding."

So Scout stood up and told her what she thought Miss Caroline would understand.  When she said Walter was a  Cunningham, to Maycomb people, that means he's a farmer and has very little.  To an outsider like Miss Caroline, that meant nothing, and it embarrassed her.

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

Scout goes to school for the first time in chapter two and clashes with Miss Caroline, the young new school teacher from out of town. Miss Caroline is unfamiliar with the town residents, and her lack of understanding is something the children take for granted. She asks poor Walter Cunningham if he forgot his lunch, and she must ask again because he does not answer right away. When he finally mumbles yes, she offers him a quarter and says he can pay her back tomorrow. She becomes impatient when Walter refuses the money.

When Walter shook his head a third time someone whispered, “Go on and tell her, Scout.”

I turned around and saw most of the town people and the entire bus delegation looking at me. Miss Caroline and I had conferred twice already, and they were looking at me in the innocent assurance that familiarity breeds understanding.

Scout speaks up because the others ask her to and because no one else will. She tries to speak "graciously on Walter’s behalf.” However, her explanation is simply “he’s a Cunningham,” which Miss Caroline does not understand. She does not know the Cunninghams and therefore does not know that Walter does not have lunch because of how desperately poor his family is.

Scout knows that the Cunninghams don’t like handouts and that the only way they can pay for Atticus’s legal fees is not through money but through food or chopped wood. Scout tries to speak up for Walter because of her knowledge of their family, but she is unable to do this clearly.

If I could have explained these things to Miss Caroline, I would have saved myself some inconvenience and Miss Caroline subsequent mortification, but it was beyond my ability to explain things as well as Atticus, so I said, “You’re shamin’ him, Miss Caroline. Walter hasn’t got a quarter at home to bring you, and you can’t use any stovewood.”

Miss Caroline keeps pressing Walter even when he looks uncomfortable and refuses to answer, so the students encourage Scout to speak up as a way to help Walter.

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

Scout thinks that she is doing an act of kindness (both to Walter and Miss Caroline) by explaining Walter's situation. Scout understands that Miss Caroline lacks understanding of their way of life; what Scout fails to understand, however, is that Miss Caroline feels superior (or at least is occupied with trying to make it appear that she is superior) and takes Scout's helpful information as an affront.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on