To kill a Mockingbird page

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 ?


8 thoughts on “To kill a Mockingbird page

  1. Rhiannon

    a) The phrase ‘scoff at and secretly believe’ says the hopes and dreams of the men are naive. The fact that they secretly believe means that they have hopes for the future. High aspirations, but failing to realise that since there is little money around to help them to live their dreams out as a reality. They are also shown to ‘scoff’ which is rather contrasting because they are then realising that there is no hope around them because of the Great Depression, leaving them cynical and disappointed. The men look at Western magazines, and scoff because they know that their dreams are ridiculous- however this does not stop them from believing that there is a small chance that they will become realities, which sows the reader that during the time that the novel was based on, the hopes and the dreams of the men were greatly limited because they revolved around money, a key shortage during the times of hardship. The men cling on to these dreams, desperate to have a shred of hope keeping them from giving into despair, but they already know that their dreams are near impossible.

    b) The ‘floor unpainted’ contrasts with the ‘vials, ‘combs’ and ‘neckties.’
    This says that the men clearly like to look after themselves (by a means of hygiene and appearance), compared to that of the the room, which has clearly been neglected and uncared for. This says that the men only look out for themselves as a means of surviving hardships, as they may not be able to paint the floors because they cannot afford the paint. Maybe they don’t have the authority to do so: is it someone else’s job, such as Crooks? The men are maybe told to leave it alone, and only to touch their own personal items. It really proves that the men are limited as to what they have and what they can do.

    c) ‘At about ten o’clock in the morning the sun threw a bright dust-laden bar through one of the side windows, and in and out of the beam flies shot like rushing stars.’
    This tells us that the men trust luck because they look out of the window and see the sunshine, making their room appear bright and almost gives a euphemistic view on what they have to face each day. They trust luck for the sun to come out so that they can start the day off and build up their hopes of getting off the ranch and owning some land. They trust luck to make sure that Lennie doesn’t get them into trouble and put them out of a job, which they so desperately need. Luck is a key thing in the novel- it’s what helps the men unite and stand up to Curley and his wife, which they wouldn’t do without the backing of their acquaintances, which suggests that by luck none of them get into trouble because of what happens. Luck amongst the men is thought of as their destiny, which will keep them persevering the path to their dream, by luck.

    1. dartmouthacademyeng Post author

      Rhiannon, You are thinking deeply about the extract and the lines. You clearly understand the themes of the novel. You need to keep your focus on what the author is doing with language – he is using contrasts for dramatic effect -objects to suggest abstract ideas and the simile of the insects suggests hopes and dreams. Phrase your answers to maintain this focus. More questions coming tomorrow! Well done! Mr Bakewell.

      Sent from my iPad


  2. Jess Branton

    C – Grade

    a) These possessions are items that travelers carry around them from place to place. Steinbeck describes every single little detail about what is exactly in that bunkhouse and what is available.

    b) Littered to me suggests that the playing cards have left by people after a card game and they haven’t been put away after use. Littered relates to scattered so the cards were scattered all over the place.

    c) There a quite a few ‘aspects’ that suggests that the bunkhouse is ‘rough’. For example; the whitewashed walls and the unpainted floors. By having things like the whitewashed walls can lead to an instant impression to the reader by thinking the setting of the book is ‘rough’ looking. “The sun threw a bright dust – laden bar through one of the side windows.” To me, this sounds like the bars of the window have not been cleaned in a while and need some attention. Overall Steinbeck describes the bunkhouse as a rough – looking room.

    1. dartmouthacademyeng Post author

      Well done again, Jess. You are still not really addressing this as a language question – how is Steinbeck using language to put across ideas? For part (a) for example, you need to drop quotations in there. I’d like you to think a little deeper about how it affects the reader. Could you fit all your possessions on a single shelf (made out of an fruit box)? What is important to these men?

  3. harriet

    The drama within this extract can be portrayed through the variations of the accents used to separate Burris and Miss Caroline “Ain’t no snot-nosed slut of a schoolteacher ever born c’n make me do nothin‘! ” the abbreviations of the words show Burris’ charachter to be a lot less educated than ‘the slut of a schoolteacher’ Miss Caroline.

    Knowing that Burris is an Ewell adds to the depth later on in the novel in understanding the characters associated with the Ewell name.“Ain’t got no mother,” was the answer, “and their paw’s right contentious.” At this point in the novel, however, it adds to the drama by the reader wanting to know more about the Ewell’s and why Burris is how he is.

    Miss Caroline’s confusion adds to the drama of the scene because it’s reflected in the minds of the reader, as at this point in the novel, they know as little as her. “Miss Caroline looked puzzled. “What do you mean by that?” she is asking the questions the reader is thinking about which helps to engage the reader by making them read on to find the answers.

    1. dartmouthacademyeng Post author

      I really like your last paragraph here, Harriet. I had not thought about it that way, but you’re right. It’s a foreshadowing moment isn’t it? But it also shows the kind of society, where rough kids mix with nice kids and Atticus is part of an impoverished and poorly educated populace. It’s no wonder they hold the views they do when they’ve had no education to speak of.


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