“Sleep, little three eyes?”

23 Nov

In tenth grade English we are reading To Kill a Mockingbird. In chapter six before Jem goes to retrieve his pants from the Radley’s fence, guess you had to be there, he asks Scout if she’s asleep. He says, “Sleep, little three eyes?” Most of us, when we’re reading something we don’t understand like this, we just skip it. He’s asking her if she asleep because it’s obvious that he wants her to know he’s going in case he doesn’t come back or something happens to him. He wants her to wait up for him, but why does he call her “little three eyes”? It seems affectionate. Usually I’d skip by this too, but after reading it four times in one day, one begins to wonder.

I rarely pose questions to my class when I don’t have a clear idea of how I’d answer them. But today, I asked if anyone knew why Jem would call his little sister little three eyes. No one had a really good idea, but I figured I could google to find out, so I challenged them to do the same. One student suggested that maybe Scout wore a monocle and he was calling her little three eyes like someone might call a person who wears glass ‘four eyes’. Although the response was creative and even though I had no idea why he called her that, I’m quite certain that six year-old Scout Finch did not wear a monocle.

The author was using a literary device known as allusion. She was alluding to a character in a fairy tale. After a quick google search, I found the story “Little One Eye, Little Two Eyes, and Little Three Eyes.” It’s Grimm Brothers Fairy Tale, No. 130. Tomorrow I’ll ask my students if they found anything, and I’d lay money on it that not one of them remembered to research it. So I have a copy of the fairy tale to share with them tomorrow. It’s interesting, and reminds me a bit of a biblical story. If you have time, check it out.

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4 Responses to ““Sleep, little three eyes?””

  1. Lance April 1, 2011 at 5:37 PM #

    I’ve been wondering about this for years. I tried to Google it a long time ago, but came up with nothing. Now I know. (This school year will be my 82nd through 84th reading of TKAM, but better later than never.)

  2. Emily May 17, 2011 at 9:25 AM #

    I am actually doing my chapter 7 questions now.. And I am so confused!

  3. Kitty May 25, 2016 at 12:50 PM #

    Ooohh, no wonder. I knew this book contained a bunch of allusions. Well, thanks for clearing that up. As soon as I read the book and stumbled across it I just had to look it up; else it’d keep bugging me throughout the day–Just like when I had to find out what a “Footwashing Baptist” was.

  4. Cindy March 15, 2017 at 7:48 PM #

    This was very helpful! As a student, we are supposed to find words that were foreign to us, and “little three-eyes” was the one I picked. I couldn’t figure out what it meant, so when I saw this, I was very relieved! You sound like a very devoted teacher. Thanks!

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