Study Guide

To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 2

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Chapter 2

  • Summer's over, and Dill heads back home to Meridian.
  • The narrator looks forward to joining the kids at school for the first time instead of spying on them through a telescope like a pint-size stalker.
  • Jem takes the narrator to school, and explains that it's different from home—and he doesn't want his first-grade sibling cramping his fifth-grade style.
  • The narrator's teacher is a young woman by the name of Miss Caroline Fisher, who's from North Alabama, otherwise known to the native Maycombians as Crazy Land.
  • Miss Caroline reads the class a story about cats and seems blithely unaware that she's already completely lost her audience, a bunch of farm kids who the narrator says are "immune to imaginative literature" (2.8).
  • Miss Caroline puts the alphabet up on the board. All of the class already knows it.
  • Amazing! Is it a class full of geniuses?
  • Nope. Most of them are starting first grade for the second time.
  • Miss Caroline asks the narrator to read, and is not pleased that she's already good at it.
  • See, the teacher assumes that Atticus has taught the narrator how to read. Apparently, these lessons must stop because Atticus isn't a licensed teacher and therefore is doing his child more harm than good.
  • Even though she's already a fluent reader, when the rest of the class is repeating first grade.
  • The narrator gets the impression that reading, which seems to come as naturally as breathing, is something like a sin when it's done out of class.
  • Trying to stay out of further trouble, the narrator zones out till recess, then complains to Jem.
  • Jem says that Miss Caroline is at the center of educational reform in the school, which he calls "the Dewey Decimal System" (2.25).
  • This new system results in boring class time, so the narrator starts writing (in cursive) a letter to Dill. Miss Caroline makes the narrator stop, saying that first graders print, and cursive isn't taught until third grade.
  • The narrator remembers that Calpurnia had passed rainy days by giving writing lessons.
  • Miss Caroline is halted in her inspection of her students' lunches by Walter Cunningham, who doesn't have one.
  • She tries to lend him a quarter for lunch, but he refuses to take it.
  • The narrator, whose name we now learn is Jean Louise, steps in, explaining to Miss Caroline that Walter is a Cunningham.
  • That explanation, crystal clear to Jean Louise, doesn't mean much to Miss Caroline, so she explains further: the Cunninghams won't take anything from anybody, preferring to get by on the little they have.
  • Flashback: Jean Louise knows about the Cunninghams because Walter's father hired Atticus for some legal work, and paid for the service by barter rather than in cash.
  • Back to the schoolroom present: Jean Louise wants to explain but can't, so she just says that Miss Caroline is making Walter ashamed by trying to lend him money he can't pay back.
  • Miss Caroline cracks at this, and calls Jean Louise up to the front of the class, where she pats her hand with the ruler and makes her stand in the corner.
  • The class breaks out laughing when they realize that the ruler taps were supposed to be corporal punishment.
  • The bell rings and everyone leaves for lunch. Miss Caroline collapses with her head in her hands at her desk.

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