“Miss Caroline began the day by reading us a story about cats. The cats had long conversations with one another; they wore cunning little clothes and lived in a warm house beneath a kitchen stove. By the time Mrs. Cat called the drugstore for an order of chocolate malted mice the class was wriggling like a bucketful of catawba worms. Miss Caroline seemed unaware that the ragged, denim-shirted and floursack-skirted first grade, most of whom had chopped cotton and fed hogs from the time they were able to walk, were immune to imaginative literature.”
The importance of the story about the cats is that it shows the students (and the reader) that Miss Caroline has no idea what she is doing. The last line of the quotation shows this clearly. Most of the students live difficult lives. They have had to work since they were very young: “most of whom had chopped cotton and fed hogs since they were able to walk.” To these students, cats are practical animals that kill mice and keep the barn free of pests. They cannot imagine cats having conversations with one another, or wearing clothes, or living in the house. The practical nature of her students makes Miss Caroline’s story difficult to understand; therefore, they cannot pay attention to it. The students aren’t being mean; they just know that Miss Caroline does not understand them. This is further demonstrated by Miss Caroline’s treatment of Scout and Walter. By the end of the chapter, the children show her compassion by asking her to read them some more stories about cats.