To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 2 Summary and Analysis

Harper Lee

Chapter 2 Summary and Analysis

Dill leaves Maycomb at the end of summer. In the wake of his departure, Scout’s only comfort is the thought of starting school. Her brother walks her to class on the first day, explaining that, as a first grader, she isn’t to hover around him at recess, talk about their home lives, or embarrass him in any way. He’s in the fifth grade and doesn’t want to be associated with the little kids. This fact takes Scout by surprise, as does her misunderstanding with her first grade teacher, Miss Caroline. Miss Caroline is new in town and doesn’t understand that Walter Cunningham, one of the boys in the class, won’t take anything off of anyone, not even the quarter Miss Caroline offers him to get lunch in town. Miss Caroline assumes Scout is being insolent and whacks her on the hand with a ruler. Later, when class lets out, Scout sees Miss Caroline sink into her chair, discouraged by her first day, but there’s bad blood between them now, and Scout doesn’t feel sorry for her.

Alliteration

One example of this would be the phrase “professional people were poor.” Another one would be "the cats had long conversations with each other, they wore cunning little clothes."

Allusion

Tarzan and the Ant Men. The tenth book in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ series of books about the character Tarzan.

Secession. In 1861, Alabama seceded from the United States and joined the Confederate States of America, fighting against the Union forces in the Civil War. Like most Southern states, they were fighting to keep slavery legal and, thus, to maintain their way of life. Winston County, however, seceded from Alabama in protest, and Scout know this, as does every child in Maycomb. She mentions it to bring Miss Caroline’s upbringing into question and show that she isn’t to be trusted.

Conflict

Once again, Scout comes into conflict with a female authority figure—this time, Miss Caroline. Scout tries to explain to her teacher about the Cunninghams and is punished for it, which seems unfair to Scout and sours her on the idea of school. This conflict is, however, slight compared to the bigger, more violent conflicts of later chapters. Rather than develop this as a primary conflict in the novel, Lee uses this episode to help develop Scout’s character (as an intelligent, somewhat obstinate girl).

Irony

One example of this would be Miss Caroline saying that she employs experiential learning, then telling Scout not to read at home or let Atticus teach her.

Similes

One example is Scout saying that Miss Caroline “looked and smelled like a peppermint drop.”

Themes

Education. This chapter marks the beginning of a divide between formal education and individual education, which becomes more obvious as the novel progresses. Scout’s teacher Miss Caroline takes a kind of totalitarian approach and tells Scout to stop learning how to read and write at home, because it would interfere with her education. “You won’t learn to write until you’re in the third grade,” she says, ignoring the fact that Scout already knows how. Scout’s disillusionment with Miss Caroline and school leads her to seek her personal and moral education elsewhere.

Shame. Miss Caroline unintentionally embarrasses Walter Cunningham by offering him money for lunch without realizing he can’t pay her back. The shame he feels stems less from his family’s financial situation and more from the fact of not being understood. Everyone in town knows that he’s poor and has learned not to embarrass him by offering him things, but Miss Caroline, a newcomer, has to be told about how things work. Throughout the novel, we’ll see characters feel shamed for one reason or another, and this shame will help us understand the social structure in Maycomb.

Tradition. Tradition often goes hand in hand with superstition, which can at times have negative effects on a character’s thoughts and behaviors. In this chapter, the best example of a tradition is one where people spit into their hands to shake on a bargain. Miss Caroline isn’t familiar with this tradition, and this further distances her from the rest of the town.