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To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee




When September comes Dill goes back to Meridian, and Scout begins to look forward to starting first grade. Jem tries to warn his sister that school and home are two completely different worlds. She will have to adjust to a new way of behaving. And above all, she mustn't embarrass him by talking about their childish games in front of his fifth-grade friends!

In spite of these warnings, Scout is full of confidence. Her teacher, Miss Caroline Fisher, is a pretty young woman in a red and white striped dress- "She looked and smelled like a peppermint drop," Scout thinks to herself. However, much to Scout's shock, Miss Caroline is not at all pleased to discover that Scout can already read perfectly well. Miss Fisher has come prepared to install a modern system for teaching reading, and it upsets her that Scout has managed to learn to read at home, without the benefit of any system at all.

Miss Caroline is totally unable to see the humor in her preference for students with "fresh minds"- that is, empty ones- and she promises, in all seriousness, to "undo the damage" of Scout's already knowing how to read.


Scout's confusion increases when Jem tells her at recess that Miss Caroline's system of teaching is something called the "Dewey Decimal System." Of course, Jem is wrong about this. The Dewey Decimal System, devised by Melvil Dewey, is a way of shelving books in libraries; it has nothing to do with the theories on progressive education of John Dewey, which are what Miss Fisher has in mind. This is one of many occasions in the early part of the story when Jem's explanations turn out to be amusingly inaccurate.

As the morning goes on it turns out that Miss Caroline has other problems besides her modern ideas about how to teach reading. Miss Caroline comes from the northern, less rural part of Alabama, but when it comes to understanding the ways of Maycomb County she might as well be from a foreign country. Before lunch, when she notices that a boy named Walter Cunningham has "forgotten" to bring anything to eat, she offers to lend him a quarter to buy his meal. The children are aghast. All of them know that the Cunninghams are very poor and far too proud to accept a handout from anyone. Since Walter is too tongue-tied to explain why he doesn't want to take the money, it falls to Scout to explain to the teacher what the Cunninghams are like. Miss Fisher is convinced by now, that Scout is a know-it-all, and she raps her knuckles with a ruler.


Many of you can probably remember being as confused as Scout on the first day of school. Suddenly there are a whole new set of rules to remember. And in place of your parents, who know everything about you, is a stranger who may misunderstand your attempts to be liked. Many authors would have written this scene in a way that asks you, the reader, to feel sorry for Scout and the other children. But Harper Lee makes the episode humorous. How does she do this? If you reread the chapter, you will notice that the humor comes from Scout's belief that Maycomb County, Alabama, is the center of the universe. No matter what may happen in the classroom, Scout is where she belongs, and Miss Caroline is just a misguided outsider. As Scout's opinions about Maycomb change, the mood of the story will gradually darken.  


ECC [To Kill a Mockingbird Contents] []

© Copyright 1985 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc.
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