To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis
by Harper Lee

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Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis

Scout chases down Walter Cunningham and grinds his face into the dirt at lunchtime because of what happened with Miss Caroline. Jem stops her from beating him up, however, citing the fact that their fathers know each other (Scout said in Chapter 2 that Walter’s family were so poor that they paid Atticus for his services with gifts of wood, holly, and chestnuts). Jem then invites Walter to lunch, bragging on the way home about how he once touched the Radley house. At lunch (which Scout calls “dinner”), Scout criticizes Walter for pouring syrup over his entire plate. Calpurnia is livid because of this and punishes Scout by making her eat in the kitchen instead of at the dinner table. Scout thinks this is reason enough to fire Calpurnia, but Atticus refuses to.

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Back at school, Miss Caroline screams, “It’s alive!” as if she’s seen a mouse. In fact, it’s a cootie living in Burris Ewell’s hair. None of the kids are bothered by this, least of all Burris Ewell, but it leaves Miss Caroline shaken up. She’s not prepared to face Burris Ewell, one of the Ewell clan of children who show up on the first day of school, then ditch for the rest of the year. Burris doesn’t leave until Miss Caroline starts crying and the other kids have to comfort her. Back home, Scout is even more confused when Calpurnia says she missed Scout while she was at school. When her father tells her it’s time to read, it’s too much for her, and she goes to sulk on the front porch. She and Atticus strike a compromise: if she goes to school, they can keep reading together in secret.


This chapter has several examples of alliteration—Miss Caroline’s “sudden shriek,” the Finches’ “silver saucer,” and Burris Ewell’s threat, “Make me, missus,” to name a few.


The Dewey Decimal System. Jem erroneously refers to this as a teaching method when it is, in fact, a classification system that libraries use to arrange their books. It was first employed in the 18th Century and was already in use in many schools by the 1930s, when the novel is set.


The conflict in this chapter is largely benign, as it was in Chapters 1 and 2. Both Scout’s conflicts with Calpurnia and Walter stem from the conflict with Miss Caroline in Chapter 1, which in itself demonstrates Scout’s often quarrelsome nature. When she describes Calpurnia as “fractious,” it’s clear that Scout is really talking about herself and isn’t, as a child, the best judge of her actions.

Burris Ewell vs. Miss Caroline. Once again, Miss Caroline’s lack of familiarity with Maycomb’s ways leads to conflict, this time with Burris Ewell, who has been showing up for the first day of first grade for three years and is just about to leave when Miss Caroline sees a cootie on his head and screams. Burris’s attack of Miss Caroline and school in general is mean-spirited and ugly and leaves her in tears. Scout and all the other children have to comfort her and explain that it’s just his way. As we’ll see later, the Ewells are all like that.

Scout vs. Calpurnia. This conflict flares up in the middle of the chapter, when Calpurnia punishes Scout for criticizing Walter’s fondness for syrup. Their fight is so contentious that Scout actually wants Atticus to fire Calpurnia because of it. He of course does no such thing, and Scout is left smarting for the rest of the afternoon, until she comes home to find that Calpurnia has made her favorite cracklin’ bread. When Calpurnia tells Scout she missed her, the girl is so befuddled that she doesn’t know what to think. Their conflict isn’t over yet, but will begin to ebb after this chapter.

Scout vs. Walter Cunningham.  When the chapter opens, Scout is chasing down Walter and grinding his face into the dirt because he’s indirectly responsible for her getting in trouble with Miss Caroline in Chapter 2. Eventually, Jem pulls Scout off of Walter and invites him over to their house for lunch. Scout, unable to fully let...

(The entire section is 1,722 words.)