What are two humorous events in To Kill A Mockingbird chapters 1–3?

Expert Answers

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

In the first three chapters of To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee acquaints the reader with Jean Louise “Scout” Finch’s outlook on life and the members of her family and immediate social circle. Scout finds certain events and people as entertaining. In addition, sometimes others are entertained at Scout's expense.

When Scout and her brother Jem first get to know Charles Baker “Dill” Harris, a boy who will become their close friend, they are happy at the novelty of finding a new kid in town. Dill, who comes from Mississippi, is a source of great entertainment for the Finch children. Scout finds humor in his renditions of books that they have not read and films they have not seen. His enthusiasm for telling stories makes his eyes light up, and “his laugh [is] happy and sudden.” She also considers that they are “lucky to have Dill” because he plays diverse parts in stories that they enact, especially those that Scout did not enjoy, such as “the ape in Tarzan.” She dubs Dill “a pocket Merlin.”

Scout starts school that fall and, though she had longed to be one of the children playing in the schoolyard at recess, finds she had little idea of what classroom lessons would entail. Although the adult Scout narrating the story clearly recalls the pain of being criticized for her advanced learning, she also presents her younger self as the kind of know-it-all girl who rarely endears herself to a novice teacher. After several incidents with Miss Caroline in just the first day, the teacher loses her patience. After she hits Scout’s hand with a ruler, she sends her to stand in a corner of the classroom. Scout acknowledges that the other children find her comeuppance funny, even if she does not:

A storm of laughter broke loose when it finally occurred to the class that Miss Caroline had whipped me.

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

In chapter 1, it is rather humorous the first time Jem and Scout meet Dill sitting in his aunt's collard patch. The Finch children initially think that someone's dog is making noise in the collard patch and are shocked to discover a small boy sitting in the middle of the vegetables. Dill then introduces himself as Charles Baker Harris and humorously remarks that he can read. Jem's response is also funny; he tells Dill,

Your name’s longer’n you are. Bet it’s a foot longer. (7)

Toward the end of chapter 1, another humorous event takes place when Dill bets Jem that he's too scared to knock on the Radley's door. Jem is terrified of the Radley home and offers a funny rebuttal by telling Dill that he has a younger sister to take care of. Once Jem claims that it is necessary to look after Scout, she immediately knows that he is afraid. The children's fears regarding Boo Radley are also humorous, and it is a funny moment when Jem runs into the Radley yard to touch the side of the house.

Another funny moment takes place in chapter 3, on Scout's first day of school. It is a humorous moment when Miss Caroline screams at the top of her lungs after a "cootie" crawls out of Burris Ewell's hair. While the teacher is freaking out, the country children attempt to calm her down and assure her that "cooties" are harmless.

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

Humor is often present in events that are funny to the person who is not a part of them.  In To Kill a Mockingbird chapters 1-3, three humorous events are the entrance of Dill, and Scout’s first day of school.

First of all, Lee often uses humor when introducing Maycomb and its characters to us.  The entrance of Dill is quite memorable.

We went to the wire fence to see if there was a puppy- Miss Rachel's rat terrier was expecting- instead we found someone sitting looking at us. Sitting down, he wasn't much higher than the collards. (ch 1)

Most of the descriptions of Dill are humorous.  He is larger than life, even though he is described as small.  When we first meet him here, the children think he is a puppy.  He introduces himself with his big name “Charles Baker Harris” and tells them he can read.  Jem is not amused, because Dill is seven years old and should be reading.  Dill’s hair is described as “stuck to his head like duckfluff” and he tells the story of how he won a beautiful child contest and he went to the movies twenty times with the money.

A second humorous event is Scout’s first day of school.  The teacher, Miss Caroline, is completely clueless.  She “looked and smelled like a peppermint drop” (ch 2), and we are first introduced to her when Scout says that she had already been punished before lunch on her first day of her first year of school.  When she is introduced, the children are mildly suspicious.

I am from North Alabama, from Winston County." The class murmured apprehensively, should she prove to harbor her share of the peculiarities indigenous to that region.  (ch 2)

The matter of fact dry wit with which the adult narrator describes Scout’s misadventures can only make the reader chuckle.  Miss Caroline reads a story about cats, and Scout notes that the class has no imagination.  She screams when she finds lice on a child’s head, and the older boys try to protect her.  On top of this, several of the children have repeated first grade and are there to keep order.  By lunchtime, Scout is rubbing Walter Cunningham’s nose in the dirt for getting her in trouble when she tried to explain why he wouldn’t take a quarter.

All of the humorous events in the story point us to hidden truths.  One of the reasons Dill is so funnily odd is that he is terribly lonely, since his family hoists him off all of the time.  Scout’s first day of school indicates larger class and cultural differences which will be key to the story later.  Lee deftly uses humor to give us crucial information.

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