Jem in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mocking Bird
Length: 656 words (1.9 double-spaced pages)
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To Kill A Mockingbird - Jem
Is it possible to shed innocence without losing hope? In the book To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, a 10-year-old boy named Jem proves that it just may be so. Throughout the novel, Jem, the brother of Scout, is trying to comprehend in his own mind the darker aspects of human nature. Within the small Southern town he lives in, Jem battles with racism, justice, bravery. It is not until the end of the novel does Jem better understand the world, and is one step closer to becoming a grown man.
One of the incidences of the novel in which Jem reacts to racism is with Mrs. Dubose's white azaleas. The white azaleas can be interpreted as representing racism on behalf of the whites, hence the color. Jem attacks the azaleas, hinting that metaphorically, he is in combat against racism. Mrs. Dubose, being racist, is a prime figure of one with a closed mind, in which Jem is also against
"Thought you could kill my Snow-on-the-Mountain, did you?
Well Jessie says the top's growing back out. Next time you'll
know how to do it right, won't you? You'll pull it up by the
root's, won't you?" (110, Mrs. Dubose)
Although he did ruin the azaleas, he was made to grow them back. This shows that racism can not be changed with rash actions, that it is much more deep rooted. Jem, in this incident and previously, was still naïve. Whenever Scout questions Jem on the issue of racism, he becomes moody, which is partially the result of his trying to understand the controversial issue. Later on, he starts to become more aware of how people act, and that their views are much different from his own.
Justice, by definition, means fairness. In the case of Tom Robinson, whom Jem's father (Atticus) is defending, fairness is a boon that is not to be granted. Jem is devastated after realizing that justice does not always prevail. After Jem sees Tom be destroyed completely inequitably, he begins to question the ways of humanity.
"...If there's just one kind of folks, why can't they get along with each
If they're all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise
each other? Scout, I think I'm beginning to understand something. I think
I'm beginning to understand why Boo Radley's stayed shut up in the house
all this time...it's because he wants to stay inside." (227, Jem)
Jem eventually establishes an understanding of people. Jem does not, however, lose hope. He remains steady to the silent promise he made to Atticus, the commitment of justice for all people Jem learns very powerful lessons from Atticus on bravery and cowardice. After Atticus shoots the mad dog, Jem receives a lesson on how guns do not make a man brave, but "when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see through it no matter what" (112-Atticus). Jem is sent to read to Mrs. Dubose after destroying her plants, and observes one kind of true bravery. Mrs. Dubose was battling a morphine addiction, which she quit in order to stay true to herself in not being addicted to anything when she dies. Jem, himself, shows bravery early on in the book, when he refuses to leave his father's side at the jailhouse. In the end, Jem understands the true meaning of bravery.
Are children able to cope with the darker secrets of humankind? Yes, many times, they are. Jem discovers the truth behind prejudice and racism, the harsh but true reality of `all men being created equal', and the veridical sense of bravery. All the while, he manages to never lose faith, and grows both physically and mentally throughout the novel. The experiences made Jem calmer, more realized, and ready to take on the harsh realities of real life.