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To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee

THE STORY

PART ONE

CHAPTER 3

Scout's first day at school continues. When the class is dismissed for lunch, Scout's first impulse is to beat up Walter, whom she blames for getting her in trouble with the teacher. Her brother Jem has another idea. He suggests that they invite Walter home for lunch.

You have already learned that Atticus once did some legal work for the Cunningham family. Although too poor to pay in cash, the family had paid the debt by bringing stovewood, hickory nuts, and holly to the Finches' back door. Scout thinks of the Cunninghams as poor, uncultured farm folk, and she is surprised that her father treats Walter as an honored guest. Walter has already failed first grade several times because of absences due to working on his parents' farm, and Atticus talks to the boy almost as if he were an adult. When Scout makes fun of the way Walter slathers his food with molasses- a country custom, rather like the habit of pouring ketchup over everything- it is she who is sent away from the table in disgrace. Notice that it is Calpurnia, not Atticus, who makes Scout leave the table. Calpurnia is black, and a servant, but her role is in many ways that of Scout and Jem's mother. She makes rules, establishes order, and must be obeyed just like any other adult. At the same time, it is obvious how much she and the children love one another.


Later that afternoon, back in school, Miss Caroline learns another lesson about country kids. One of the boys, Burris Ewell, has "cooties" (lice). When he is ordered to go home and bathe, Burris turns surly and threatening. This time Miss Caroline is happy to let her students take over and deal with Burris. He leaves the classroom after announcing that he had never intended to stay anyway: Ewell children attend school only on the first day of every year to keep the truant officer happy.

That evening, Scout begs Atticus to let her quit school, too. Miss Caroline has told her to stop reading at home with her father in the evenings, and Scout does not want to give up the one special pleasure she shares with Atticus. Atticus suggests a compromise: Scout can keep on reading at home, but she will have to go back to school and try to get along better with her teacher. Part of growing up, Atticus says, is learning to deal with people like Miss Fisher and Walter Cunningham, who have different ideas about how things are done.

"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 tells her. This is a piece of advice that Scout will recall many more times in the course of the story. You might almost say that the entire novel is about how Scout learns to put her father's words into practice.

NOTE:

By now you have heard another of Jem's mixed-up definitions. The legal problem that the Cunninghams brought to Atticus had to do with an entailment. Jem tells Scout that an entailment is "the condition of having your tail in a crack." Actually, an entailment is a kind of restriction on what an owner can do with his property.  

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