Chapters 2 and 3
The summer is now over and Dill returns to his mother’s, and Scout starts
Grade 1 at the local school. She has been looking forward to this for a long time, but her first day does not go as smoothly as she would like.
Her teacher, who is new to the profession, is alarmed to find that Scout can
already read and write, and she makes Scout feel guilty at her high level of education.
During lunch she complains to Jem about her teacher, but he does not
Walter Cunningham, a boy from a very poor family has no lunch, so the
teacher offers to buy one for him, but he refuses, as he knows his family will not be able to repay her.
Scout being too smart for her own good interrupts to explain this situation to the teacher, who slaps her with a ruler across her hand. Scout is annoyed at this injustice and takes it out on Walter, and they fight, rolling around on the ground and Jem breaks it up. To Scout’s amazement he invites Walter back to their house for lunch. Scout criticizes Walter for his poor table manners and Calpurnia pulls her aside and slaps her for failing to be a good hostess.
Back at school a large bug crawls out of Burris Ewell’s hair, a member of
the Ewell clan, another impoverished family of the town, which causes the new teacher to be dismayed. Burris only comes to school on the first day in order to be registered.
He shouts abuse at the teacher who is reduced to tears.
At home Scout complains to Atticus about school and that she is never going
back, but Atticus says under the law she must go, and that he will continue to read to her provided she doesn’t tell her teacher.
Atticus has been Scout’s main teacher and he has always said to her that in
order to understand a person one must ‘climb into his skin and walk around in it’.
We can gather three main aspects from Scout’s first day at school.
One: an instant sympathy with our narrator being made to feel guilty and
punished by the teacher for her good intentions.
Scout always means well and her nature is basically good, and the mistakes she does make are honest and while there are evil influences around her, she appears to go through the story with no ill effects.
Two: we obtain a good description of the Maycomb social ladder and how it
Three: we share Scout’s confusion that things are not always what they
seem. Scout expects all adults, especially those in authority to be the same, but her teacher is far removed from Atticus. Despite the injustices Scout faces she remains buoyant and not disillusioned.
We also come across the Ewell clan who are a bad bunch. They live next
to the village dump and make their living scavenging amongst the items discarded by the rest of the town.
Both socially and geographically they are just one step above the black community, which borders their land. They seldom wash and it is difficult to tell from the color of their skin what race they are.
Scout has a vain hope that Atticus will teach her at home like Burris Ewell,
who does not go to school, but this is soon shattered by Atticus’ reference to the law on this subject.
A famous quotation from the book is the ‘climbing into
someone’s skin and walking around in it’ as a way of trying to understand people. This is a recurring theme throughout the novel.