To Kill A Mockingbird ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee is a novel which deals with many complex themes such as racism, intolerance, childhood, growing up and bravery. One of the main characters is Jem and he changes throughout the novel as he comes to terms with adult society, and the prejudice within it. The story takes place during the Depression in Maycomb, Alabama. It focuses on Jem, Scout and their father Atticus. Atticus is a lawyer who must defend Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman named Mayella Ewell.
In court, Atticus establishes that Mayella and her father Bob Ewell are lying. Even though Tom is innocent, the jury convicts him because he is black. Jem’s faith in justice is badly damaged. Humiliated by the trial, Bob Ewell wants revenge. He attacks Jem and Scout as they walk home on a dark night from the school Halloween pageant. Jem’s arm is broken in the struggle but, amongst the confusion, Boo (a recluse who lives across the street) comes to the children’s rescue. Maycomb’s sheriff arrives to discover that Bob Ewell has been killed in the fight.
The main themes in the novel, which demonstrate how Jem changes, are racism and intolerance. This is shown through the court case, and is displayed when Aunt Alexandra is intolerant of the Cunningham’s because of their social class differences. Intolerance is also shown by Mrs Dubose. Jem vandalises her garden because he is frustrated by her racist comments against his father. The Tom Robinson case affects Jem just as he is hitting puberty and it changes his outlook on people, forcing him to become an adult.
Atticus teaches Jem by example not to discriminate but to treat people equally. When the verdict comes back on Tom Robinson, Jem is sure the jury will see that Tom is innocent and do the right thing, but when they find him guilty, Jem is distraught. Scout observes: “I peeked at Jem: his hands were white from gripping the balcony rail, his shoulders jerked as if each ‘guilty’ was a separate stab between them. ” This shows how shocked and physically affected Jem is by the verdict. His sadness and anger is further emphasised later in the chapter: His face was streaked with angry tears as we made our way through a cheerful crowd. ” Jem was convinced that Tom would be set free and he is angry with the jury’s injustice. Jem says: “He’s not supposed to lean, Reverend, but don’t fret, we’ve won it. ” The court case leads Jem to have a deeper understanding of society. He becomes more cynical as he sees adults making the wrong decisions. Other themes in the novel are bravery and innocence. Jem shows bravery when he refuses to leave his father’s side at the jailhouse, despite the presence of the lynch mob.
He is also brave when he returns to the Radley place to retrieve his trousers following the incident when Mr Nathan Radley’s shotgun is fired in his direction. Atticus demonstrates his bravery when he steps up to kill the mad dog, and again when he runs into Miss Maudie’s burning house to help save her furniture. These acts set an example of mature male behaviour which Jem learns from. At the end of the novel Bob Ewell tries to kill Jem and Scout, but they were saved by Boo. Both Boo and Jem demonstrate incredible bravery, because Jem may have died to save his sister, and Boo might have died to save the children.
The childhood innocence with which Jem begins the novel is threatened by incidents which expose the bad side of human nature; particularly the guilty verdict at Tom Robinson’s trial, and the revenge Bob Ewell desires. As the novel progresses, Jem struggles to maintain faith in the human capacity for good in the light of these recurring examples of human evil. Jem is an interesting main character and he matures greatly throughout the novel. He is sensible, playing the leader role within the group.
Jem is a good big brother for Scout, and he tries to protect her throughout the novel. Jem is very trusted by Scout, Atticus and Dill, and he trusts them equally. He has significantly matured from the childish, playful boy that he was at the beginning of the novel (when he climbs trees and improves the tree house) to a more calm, composed and grown-up person who resembles his father. Harper Lee has brought the theme of maturity into the novel through the development of Jem. Upon maturity, Jem has enough moral courage to do what is right, even if it is not the most popular choice.
When he finds Dill hiding underneath Scout’s bed. His first reaction is to tell Dill “let your mother know where you are”. Jem is able to put himself in the shoes of Dill’s parents, who would be worrying about him. Atticus is a court attorney for Maycomb County. He believes in equality, justice and morality and he instils these beliefs into his children through education, freedom and discipline. His methods of raising his children and showing his love for them, positively affect their personalities and make them responsible citizens.
By the end of the novel Jem has been exposed to many evil attributes of human nature. He comes to realise that he lives in an imperfect and unfair world, full of racism and injustice. He learns compassion and trust from his father, Atticus, and respect and honour from Tom Robinson. He also realises the importance of his father’s words – to admire the good and forgive the bad. All of these things make Jem understand right and wrong. He has matured to emerge as a moral hero just like his father. By Thomas Innes