The boy stood up. He was the filthiest human I had ever seen. His neck was dark gray, the backs of his hands were rusty, and his fingernails were black deep into the quick. He peered at Miss Caroline from a fist-sized clean space on his face. No one had noticed him, probably, because Miss Caroline and I had entertained the class most of the morning.
“And Burris,” said Miss Caroline, “please bathe yourself before you come back tomorrow.”
The boy laughed rudely. “You ain’t sendin‘ me home, missus. I was on the verge of leavin’—I done done my time for this year.”
Miss Caroline looked puzzled. “What do you mean by that?”
The boy did not answer. He gave a short contemptuous snort. One of the elderly members of the class answered her: “He’s one of the Ewells, ma’am,” and I wondered if this explanation would be as unsuccessful as my attempt. But Miss Caroline seemed willing to listen. “Whole school’s full of ‘em. They come first day every year and then leave. The truant lady gets ’em here ‘cause she threatens ’em with the sheriff, but she’s give up tryin‘ to hold ’em. She reckons she’s carried out the law just gettin‘ their names on the roll and runnin’ ‘em here the first day. You’re supposed to mark ’em absent the rest of the year…” “
“But what about their parents?” asked Miss Caroline, in genuine concern.
“Ain’t got no mother,” was the answer, “and their paw’s right contentious.”
Burris Ewell was flattered by the recital. “Been comin‘ to the first day o’ the first grade fer three year now,” he said expansively. “Reckon if I’m smart this year they’ll promote me to the second…”
Miss Caroline said, “Sit back down, please, Burris,” and the moment she said it I knew she had made a serious mistake.
The boy’s condescension flashed to anger. “You try and make me, missus.”
Little Chuck Little got to his feet. “Let him go, ma’am,” he said. “He’s a mean one, a hard-down mean one. He’s liable to start somethin‘, and there’s some little folks here.” He was among the most diminutive of men, but when Burris Ewell turned toward him, Little Chuck’s right hand went to his pocket. “Watch your step, Burris,” he said. “I’d soon’s kill you as look at you. Now go home.”
Burris seemed to be afraid of a child half his height, and Miss Caroline took advantage of his indecision: “Burris, go home. If you don’t I’ll call the principal,” she said. “I’ll have to report this, anyway.”
The boy snorted and slouched leisurely to the door. Safely out of range, he turned and shouted: “Report and be damned to ye! Ain’t no snot-nosed slut of a schoolteacher ever born c’n make me do nothin‘! You ain’t makin’ me go nowhere, missus. You just remember that, you ain’t makin‘ me go nowhere!”
Comment on how language is used to present the drama of the extract.
For a B grade:
Pick out the emotive language – how does it make the reader feel?
How does the movement of Burris and Little Chuck little use the power of suggestion?
What does Burris’ dialogue (and the use of slang and derogatory language) add to the scene?
For an A grade:
How is the contrast between the behaviour of Miss Caroline and Burris used in the scene?
There are two sides to Burris’ character – which phrases show them?
How does the characterisation of Burris prepare us for other main players in the story-line ?