To Kill a Mockingbird

How does Harper Lee show that Miss Caroline is not familiar with Maycomb customs?

Chapter 2

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In Chapter 2, the description of Scout's first day allows Lee to provide a context for the events to follow by introducing some of the people and families of Maycomb County. By introducing Miss Caroline, who is like a foreigner in the school, Lee also reveals Maycomb culture to the reader. Maycomb county children are portrayed as a mainly poor, uneducated, rough, rural group ("most of them had chopped cotton and fed hogs from the time they were able to walk"), in contrast to Miss Caroline, who wears makeup and "looked and smelled like a peppermint drop." The chapter helps show that a certain amount of ignorance prevails in Maycomb County. The school system, as represented by Miss Caroline, is well-intentioned, but also somewhat powerless to make a dent in patterns of behavior which are deeply ingrained in the town's social fabric.

As seen in the first chapter, where a person's identity is greatly influenced by their family and its history, this chapter again shows that in Maycomb, a child's behavior can be explained simply by his family's last name, as when Scout explains to her teacher "he's a Cunningham." Atticus says that Mr. Cunningham "came from a set breed of men," which suggests that the entire Cunningham line shares the same values. In this case, they have pride: they do not like to take money they can't pay back, and they continue to live off the land in poverty rather than work for the government (in the WPA, FDR's Work Projects Administration). Thus, in Maycomb County, people belong to familial "breeds," which can determine a member's disposition or temperament. All the other children in the class understand this: growing up in this setting teaches children that people can behave a certain way simply because of the family or group that they come from.