To Kill a Mockingbird – Jem Analysis
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In the novel To Kill A Mockingbird Harper Lee shows the characteristics of the Jeremy Finch through his younger sister and narrator, Scout Finch. Jem is a young boy growing up in the 1930’s deep south of America. Throughout the text Scout sees Jem display characteristics similar to Atticus that contradict common society, his maturation into a young man and his continuing childish perspective.
One characteristic shown of Jem Finch that is similar to Atticus is his ability to empathize or “….climb into their skin and walk around in it.” (pg 31). During the novel Jem develops a high level of emotional intelligence that allows him to understand the situation of others, as well as what they may be thinking or possible the way they will act. The reader first discovers this characteristic about Jem when he stops Scout from bashing up Walter Cunningham in the schoolyard and invites him over for dinner. Walter and the other Cunningham’s are folk that are honest but extremely poor. They don’t take anything they can not pay back or equal with something they already possess “I [Scout] stomped at him [Walter] to chase him away, but Jem put out his hand and stopped me.” (pg 24). Jem stops Scout bashing Walter because he knows the ordeals he and his family face.
To make up for Scout, Jem invites Walter over for dinner because Jem knows Walter is lucky to get a proper meal a day. Another example of where Jem shows empathy is with the character of Mrs. Dubose. Mrs. Dubose is an old, morphine addicted; wheelchair-bound lady who has a habit of publicly abusing Atticus in front of Jem and Scout. One day Jem gets angry and smashes her flowers; which he then has to repay by reading to her. About 1 month after he completes his reading duties, Mrs. Dubose dies and Jem feels empathy for her when Atticus explains how she died. “….Mrs. Dubose was a morphine addict. She took it as a pain killer for years…..She said she meant to break herself of it before she died, and that’s what she did.” (pg 120).
Jem feels empathy for Mrs. Dubose’s pain and wanted her to die happy and liberated, even though he hated almost everything about her. “Did she die free?” (pg 121). A later example of Jem’s attained ability to empathize is with Tom Robinson. During Tom Robinson’s trial Jem is tense and nervous with anticipation; although by the end of te trial he is convinced Atticus and Tom will win. But when the verdict goes against Tom, Jem feels instant and uncontrollable empathy for Tom and believes the system is wrong. “….don’t fret [to Reverend Sykes] we’ve won it [Jem]….. It ain’t right Atticus…..” (pg 231). Jem’s ability to empathize and understand others and their position is one of the crucial characteristics that make Jem, a major character in To Kill A Mockingbird.
Throughout the events that occur in To Kill A Mockingbird the reader sees Jem develop from a young boy into a young man because of his maturation. During the novel there are several significant points were Jem matures or grows up. The first is when Jem, Dill and Scout attempt to take a peak inside the Radley lot but are shot at by Mr. Nathan Radley. When Jem later reflects on what happened he realized that they could have died tonight all for the sake of getting a look at Boo Radley. “We shouldn’a done that tonight, Scout” (pg 61). This shows that Jem has grow up and realized the risk he took and has thought about what might have happened and the consequences of his actions. A second event which is symbolizes Jem’s maturation is when the Finch family (including Aunt Alexandra, Francis etc.) have dinner and Jem is allowed to sit at the adult table. This shows that he has been recognized by his family as growing up into an adult – one of them. “Jem and Francis had sat at the big table for a while now…..” (pg __).
Scout reflects that Jem has been considered a young man or adult in the eyes of Aunt Alexandra for quite some time, proving that the family believes that he has the maturity to behave like a civilized human being. The final example of Jem’s continued maturation in the novel is when Mrs. Maudies house catches on fire. Everyone from the neighbouring houses rushes out to help Mrs. Maudie leaving Jem to care for Scout. Atticus entrusts Jem enough to believe that Scout will be well taken care of in the hands of Jem. “….go down and stand in front of the Radley place….. Do as I tell you. Run now. Take care of Scout you hear?” (pg 75). Atticus’ simple command of “Take care of Scout” means that Atticus believes Jem is old, mature and smart enough to look after himself and his younger sister in a time when nobody else will be able to look out for them. Through these examples Jem is recognized to be maturing into an adult by his family, in the eyes of Atticus and Scout and to himself as seen in To Kill A Mockingbird
Through Jeremy Finch, Harper Lee also portrays the characteristic of childishness, innocence or inexperience. Although Jem develops throughout the actions that take place in To Kill A Mockingbird he still possess a quality of innocence and inexperience. Jem’s childish behavior is greatly expressed in his obsession with Arthur (Boo) Radley. Jem invents a game based of the Radley family as a joke with Dill and Scout (although she opposes the game) to play during the summer holidays. “I know what we are going to play. Something new, something different. [Jem] What? [Dill] Boo Radley [Jem]” (pg 41). This portrays Jem openly expressing his obsession with a human being in the form of a mindless and childish game that is sure to cause speculation from the Maycomb residences. Another instance where Jem highlights his inexperience or childishness is again an incident involving Boo Radley. When Jem and Dill go through the phase where they are completely and utterly obsessed with Boo they attempt to take a peak inside the shutter to “get a look at” Boo Radley.
“Dill and Jem were simply going to peep in the window with the loose shutter to see if they could get a look at Boo Radley….” (pg 56) This again shows Jem’s immaturity and inexperience because he hasn’t considered the consequences of getting court or if something goes wrong. He is also in denial that Atticus knows what they’re up to and that they are doing anything wrong. When Dill arrives in Maycomb at the start of the summer holidays he creates conflict between Jem and Scout over “Hot Steams”. According to Jem a hot steam is “….somebody who can’t get to heaven, just wallows around on lonesome roads and if you walk through him, when you die you become one too.” (pg 39 – 40) This superstitious voodoo belief is supposed to be “nigger-talk” but in Jem’s mind they are real legends. This is because he is inexperienced and has not fully matured as yet. So Jem’s immaturity, inexperience, innocence and childishness are ever present during the early stages of the novel, To Kill A Mockingbird
Harper Lee uses the character of Jem in the novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, to show a young boys ability to learn complex human emotions, the process of a boy becoming a man in the 1930’s deep south and how everyone has a childish charm about them. Harper Lee wants to influence the readers in a positive way by having Jem display adult like characteristics while still being able to connect with children.