The first ten chapters of Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird introduce the readers to the Finch family, their neighbors and friends, and the daily workings of life in a southern Alabama town in the 1930s. One lesson, or theme, that dominates these chapters is how Scout learns to treat people who are different than she is. From the local boogeyman to the classmate at school, she learns many lessons on how to behave and treat people kindly.
First of all, Boo Radley is the local shut-in whom the children and Stephanie Crawford have demonized. Gossip flows through a town like vicious flood waters, sometimes, and Miss Maudie teaches Scout not to swim in it. When Scout is probing Maudie for answers about Boo Radley, Maudie finally squashes the rumors by saying the following:
"That is three-fourths colored folks and one-fourth Stephanie Crawford. . . [she] told me once she woke up in the middle of the night and found him looking in the window at her. I said what did you do, Stephanie, move over in the bed and make room for him? That shut her up awhile" (45).
Maudie goes on to tell Scout that she knew Arthur (Boo) as a boy and remembered he was a nice boy. Basically, Maudie breaks down the rumors with humor and then tells Scout the truth. She leads by example and teaches a good lesson not to listen to the gossips.
Another lesson that Scout learns from her father is about how to tolerate other people rather than beating them up over a disagreement. After Scout is frustrated with school and classmates, Atticus says the following:
". . . if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it" (30).
The above passage teaches Scout to be patient, consider a tough situation from the other person's point of view and then plan a response to the issue at hand rather than throwing them down in the dirt--literally in Scout's case.
Another trick Atticus teaches Scout is to negotiate and compromise like a good little lawyer. Scout doesn't want to go to school because her teacher said that her father incorrectly taught her how to read and Atticus says,
"Do you know what a compromise is? . . . [it's] an agreement reached by mutual concessions. It works this way. . . If you'll concede the necessity of going to school, we'll go on reading every night just as we always have. Is it a bargain?" (31).
Thus, Atticus teaches another lesson about how to get along better with people--even teachers.
Finally, at Christmas time the children receive air-rifles, which could become an issue if Scout hasn't learned to treat others kindly. Atticus teaches them the proper use of the guns he gave them by saying the following:
"I'd rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you'll go after birds. Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird" (90).
This is the quote from which the novel bears its title and with good reason because it is an analogy for life, too. Maudie interprets Atticus by saying that mockingbirds don't hurt or bother anyone or anything. Innocent animals like these should be allowed to live without any harassment. Later, the Scout makes the parallel between the mockingbirds and innocent people like Tom Robinson and Boo Radley.