To Kill a Mockingbird
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
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
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
Kill a Mockingbird Contents] [PinkMonkey.com]
© Copyright 1985 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc.
Further distribution without the written consent of PinkMonkey.com