What do Miss Caroline's interactions with Burris Ewell suggest about Miss Caroline and the Ewells in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee?

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Miss Caroline officially meets Burris Ewell in chapter three of To Kill a Mockingbird. As she's walking by him, Miss Caroline spots a louse crawling out of Burris's hair. She screams in horror, but is calmed down by Little Chuck Little who assures her that cooties are nothing to be afraid of. Burris shows no sign of alarm, finds the bug, and squishes it between his fingers. The interchange that follows between teacher and student shows they are from completely different sides of the tracks.

First, Miss Caroline asks Burris to spell his first name because all she has is his last name "Ewell" in her roll book, but Burris doesn't know how to spell his name. She then tells him to go home and wash his hair before returning the next day. She even reads a recipe to him about how to get rid of lice. Scout describes him as the filthiest person she's ever seen. He stands up and declares that she isn't sending him home, he's leaving on his own volition. The class then explains to her the Ewells only come on the first day of school and don't come back till the next year. Miss Caroline is also deeply affected by the revelation that Burris has no mother. Burris disrespectfully yells the following before leaving the school:

"Ain't no snot-nosed slut of a schoolteacher ever born c'n make me do nothin'! You ain't makin' me go nowhere, missus. You just remember that, you ain't makin' me go nowhere!" (28).

Once Miss Caroline is sufficiently crying, Burris leaves.

The differences between Miss Caroline and Burris Ewell are almost innumerable. Miss Caroline is tender-hearted, educated, and probably doesn't know what it means to suffer or go hungry. She also probably grew up with two parents who nurtured her and gave her everything she needed in life. Miss Caroline has never been spoken to by anyone in such a disrespectful manner, either. She is a young, naïve, and inexperienced girl.

Burris, on the other hand, is a wild, uneducated, disrespectful boy who hasn't been taught manners, hygiene, or how to obey anyone from the community. He's probably been taught the world owes him a living and he is beholden to no one. Sadly, Burris goes home with an empty stomach and to no one but siblings because his father is probably out drunk somewhere. The Ewells, as Atticus puts it, are the biggest disgrace of Maycomb county.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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