What do we learn about Burris and Ewell family in Chapter 3 of To Kill a Mockingbird?  

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bullgatortail's profile pic

bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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We learn that young Burris Ewell is "the filthiest human I had ever seen," and that his hair is filled with "cooties"--head lice. Like many of the poor children, Burris is repeating the first grade: He comes the "first day every year and then leave(s)" so the truant officer won't bother the family. We find that Burris "ain't got no mother" (she's dead), and that Bob Ewell is "right contentious." Burris is apparently big for his age, since Little Chuck Little is only "half his height." Burris is crude and foul-mouthed, cursing the teacher and calling her a "snot-nosed slut" as he leaves the classroom. Atticus later tells Scout that "the Ewells had been the disragce of Maycomb for three generations," that none of the family worked, and that they "lived like animals." The Ewells were unlike any other family in Maycomb, Atticus told Scout, that they were "members of an exclusive society made up of Ewells." Bob breaks the law routinely: He "hunt(s) and trap(s) out of season," and he drinks up the family's relief check on "green whiskey."

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gmuss25's profile pic

gmuss25 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Chapter 3, the reader is introduced to Burris Ewell and given insight into the most despicable family in Maycomb. On Scout's first day of school, a cootie falls out of Burris Ewell's hair, and he proceeds to display his rude, disrespectful personality by insulting Miss Caroline. Scout mentions that Burris is the filthiest person she has ever seen, and another member of the class explains to Miss Caroline that the Ewells only attend the first day of school every year. Therefore, Burris is much older than most of the students in Scout's class, and his father does not care if his children attend school. The student also tells Miss Caroline that Burris has no mother and his "paw's right contentious." Burris then displays his offensive personality by cursing at Miss Caroline as he leaves the class.

Later that night, Scout tells Atticus about her first day of school. Atticus gives additional insight into the lives of the Ewells by telling his daughter that the Ewells have been the disgrace of Maycomb for many generations. Atticus says that they lived like animals and were given special privileges because of their unconventional ways. The reader learns that the community gives Bob Ewell permission to hunt out of season because he is an alcoholic who spends most of his money on green whiskey instead of feeding his children. Overall, the reader learns that Burris is the product of a disgraceful family who live like animals and are viewed with contempt throughout Maycomb.

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