To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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In To Kill A Mockingbird, Walter refuses money from Miss Caroline. What is it that Scout tries to explain to Miss Caroline?

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In one of the most memorable scenes of the novel, Scout attempts to explain to Miss Caroline that Walter comes from a poor family and will not be able to pay her back for lending him a quarter. Instead of elaborating on Walter's circumstance, Scout assumes that Miss Caroline is familiar with the Cunningham's family reputation. Scout's simple, vague response to Miss Caroline concerning Walter's refusal is, "Miss Caroline, he’s a Cunningham" (Lee, 20). Scout mentions that she thought she made herself perfectly clear by telling Miss Caroline that Walter is a Cunningham. While Scout has "special knowledge of the Cunningham tribe" from Atticus's explanations and interactions with Walter's father, she does not take into consideration the fact that Miss Caroline is from Winston County. Essentially, Scout cannot explain that Walter is from a family of farmers, who have been adversely affected by the economic crash. They have no money to pay for things and trade various items in order attain the things they need. When Miss Caroline does not understand Scout's vague explanation, Scout becomes frustrated and says,

"You’re shamin‘ him, Miss Caroline. Walter hasn’t got a quarter at home to bring you, and you can’t use any stovewood" (Lee, 21).

Scout's immature antics and inability to elaborate on Walter's circumstance get her into trouble with Miss Caroline. 

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lsumner eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In To Kill A Mockingbird, Scout tries to explain why Walter Cunningham will not take lunch money from Miss. Caroline. Scout understand the rules of living in Maycomb. Walter only had his pride. He did not have much money. When Miss Caroline tried to give him a quarter for lunch, he refused. He knew he could not take anything that he could not pay back. Since he had no money with which to pay Miss Caroline, he refused to accept her charity. 

Miss Caroline took this as disrespectful and unappreciative. Scout tries to explain to Miss Caroline why Walter reacted the way he did. She tries to tell her that Walter will not take “anything off of anybody.” Miss Caroline does not receive Scout's help. She refuses to listen to Scout. She even spanks Scout's hand.

Scout was only trying to get Miss Caroline to be sensitive to Walter's need to keep his pride. After all, that is all that Walter has--his pride. Walter would not take Miss Caroline's quarter because he did not have a quarter at home with which to pay her back. Scout tried to explain that Miss Caroline was embarrassing Walter:

"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 learns the hard way. Scout finds her crying when the other children have gone to lunch. Scout would have felt sorry for her if Miss Caroline would have appreciated Scout's help:

“Had her conduct been more friendly toward me, I would have felt sorry for her.”

 

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