Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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Essential Passage by Character: Scout Finch

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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—“
“—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)


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....

(This entire section contains 1341 words.)

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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 privy to all the understandings of the different community members, like the Ewells and Cunninghams. Thus Scout should give her a measure of grace, helping her to understand the town of Maycomb and the social makeup of the individuals that live there.


This passage presents the lesson the starts Scout on the path of growing up. As a first grader, Scout is naturally self-absorbed, concerned only with her own point of view and not really able to understand that not everyone sees the same things or thinks the same things as she does.

Having known all the people of Maycomb all her life, Scout does not quite know how to deal with a newcomer like Miss Caroline. Scout naturally thinks that Miss Caroline, as a teacher of the children of the community, should know all about them already. While she is willing to teach her teacher, she cannot see how having to submit to the correction of one of her students would not sit well with Miss Caroline. Scout resents her teacher for not truly understanding her intentions. While Miss Caroline cannot seem to see things from Scout’s point of view, which upsets Scout, Scout herself does the same thing. This establishes the basis of the conflict that Scout will experience during her first few days of school.

In the matter with Calpurnia, Scout cannot see why the maid always seems to favor Jem over her. As Atticus points out, Jem does not cause the problems that Scout does, yet Scout cannot understand why Calpurnia does not see inside her heart and understand her need to be treated the same way. Her insistence that Calpurnia be fired is met with a strong refusal on the part of Atticus. Calpurnia has been with the family since a couple of years after Jem was born. As a member of the family, Calpurnia has the right to correct Scout, and Scout will have to come to some place where she can understand things from Calpurnia’s point of view.

In her encounter with Mrs. Dubose, Scout sees beyond the appearances of the woman as just some crabby old neighbor. By accompanying Jem on his “punishment” of reading to Mrs. Dubose, Scout understands the true source of her neighbor's “crabbiness”—a valiant effort to overcome the morphine addiction that has masked her pain yet held her captive. Through Atticus’s revelation of Mrs. Dubose's pain, Scout begins to see her as a woman who is suffering now so that she can die with no regrets, no bondage, and with all the dignity of a noble character.

Throughout the novel Scout has difficulties understanding the points of view of the white community, especially during the trial of Tom Robinson. She cannot understand the fear and hatred that is rooted in the hearts of the people, when she herself knows and accepts the Black community on as close to terms of equality as possible during that time and in that place. This is one instance in which she cannot, or will not, see things through their eyes.

In the end, it is placing herself in the shoes of Boo Radley, the "boogey man” of her childhood, that most pushes her along the path to maturity. Rather than seeing him as a hidden menace, Scout periodically gets hints that Boo is a true human being, one who provides her and Jem with gifts, who gives her a warm blanket in the night, and who rescues her and Jem from the hands of Bob Ewell. It is in this final event that Scout at last sees past appearances and circumstances to see people as Atticus does—people who have lives, hopes, fears, and dignity.


Essential Passage by Character: Atticus Finch


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