To Kill a Mockingbird Questions and Answers
by Harper Lee

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What quote is an example of ambiguity and incongruity in Chapters 1 through 5 in To Kill a Mockingbird? Why is there ambiguity or incongruity, and how does it help advance the writer's themes?

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bullgatortail eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Being a teacher myself, I have always found Miss Caroline's misplaced air of superiority in Chapter 2 most insulting, and her comments concerning Atticus' teaching being detrimental to Scout is certainly an incongruous statement for any educator to make. When Miss Caroline discovers that Scout can read--and read well--

... a faint line appeared between her eyebrows... and (she) looked at me with more than faint distaste.

She immediately ordered Scout to tell Atticus

     "... not to teach you any more. It's best to begin reading with a fresh mind. You tell him I'll take over from here and try to undo the damage--"
     "Your father does not know how to teach."

Miss Caroline is young and fresh out of college, but she seems to have learned little while there. Her belief that only teachers know how to teach is absurd, and her presumptuous statement that Atticus--perhaps the most intelligent man in Maycomb--is incapable of properly teaching his daughter, and doing her harm in the process, shows a perspective that is incongruous with the educational profession. Whether it is the 1930s or the 21st century, positive parental involvement is an essential part of educating a child; Miss Caroline, however, apparently believes that there should be no parental interest whatsoever. Her supposedly modern teaching technique is just one of the jabs that author Harper Lee takes at the educational system and teachers in general, a theme that is illustrated in Lee's belief that students can better "learn important lessons about life through the examples of others" than from their teachers at school. 

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