To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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Essential Passage by Character: Scout Finch

Atticus sat down in the swing and crossed his legs. His fingers wandered to his watchpocket; he said that was the only way he could think. He waited in amiable silence, and I sought to reinforce my position: “You never went to school and you do all right, so I’ll just stay home too. You can teach me like Granddaddy taught you and Uncle Jack.”

“No I can’t,” said Atticus. “I have to make a living. Besides, they’d put me in jail if I kept you at home—dose of magnesia for you tonight and school tomorrow.”

“I’m feeling all right, really.”

“Thought so. Now what’s the matter?"

Bit by bit, I told him the day’s misfortunes. “—and she said you taught me all wrong, so we can’t ever read anymore, ever. Please don’t sent me back, please sir.”

Atticus stood up and walked to the end of the porch. When he completed his examination of the wisteria vine he strolled back to me.

“First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—“

“Sir?”

“—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Atticus and I had learned many things today, and Miss Caroline had learned several things herself. She had learned not to hand something to a Cunningham, for one thing, but if Walter and I had put ourselves in her shoes we’d have seen it was an honest mistake on her part. We could not expect her to learn all Maycomb’s ways in one day, and we could not hold her responsible when she knew no better.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Chapter 3, pp. 29-30 (Harper Perennial: New York)

Summary
Scout’s first day of school was an event she had long anticipated with excitement. However, it was not quite what she had expected. Her teacher, Miss Caroline, is a brand-new arrival in Maycomb from the northern part of the state, where people are “different.” Bringing new methods such as the Dewey system (based on a child’s natural self-discovery), which Jem calls the “Dewey Decimal System” (confusing it with the library classification system), Miss Caroline is an unknown quantity.

At the beginning of the day, Miss Caroline discovers that Scout already knows how to read. After some questioning, she gets the mistaken impression that she was taught to read by her father. Scout, however, insists that she has not been taught by Atticus; in fact, she cannot remember exactly how she learned to read. She just learned. As the conversation devolves into an argument, Miss Caroline stubbornly insists that Scout tell her father to stop teaching her to read, as it is disrupting the methods Scout is learning at school.

All in all, Scout’s first day was one long series of misunderstandings. Miss Caroline does not understand that the Ewell children only show up on the first day to get their names on the role, and then they do not show up again for the rest of the year. When Miss Caroline attempts to give Walter Cunningham a quarter to buy a lunch since he has not brought one to school, Scout tries to explain to her that Cunninghams do not accept charity. At lunch, Scout has a run-in with Calpurnia concerning her treating of Walter as her guest.

That evening, as she is sitting with Atticus, her father invites her to come and read with him. At first, Scout declines, saying that she does not feel well. She announces that she will probably not be able to go back to school ever again. This signals to Atticus that something is up. Eventually Scout confesses that it is not illness but dissatisfaction with how the day went.

Atticus tells Scout that she must learn to walk in other people’s shoes. He tells her that she must try to see things from the other person’s point of view. He describes how things might look from Miss Caroline’s viewpoint. She is new to the community, unfamiliar with how things are done, but knowing only what she has learned about teaching in college. She has not become...

(The entire section is 1,341 words.)