Jem the Visionary: Characterization in To Kill a Mockingbird

February 19, 2019 by Essay Writer

In Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, Scout’s (the narrator’s) older brother, Jem, plays an ironically important role. He may seem similar to other boys in Maycomb given his brotherly characteristics, but there is more to his character. Jem is a luminary to his sister. He realizes the inhumane qualities of Maycomb, and ultimately stands up for what is right, even if he is looked down upon for doing so. Undoubtedly, Jem is a paragon of tolerance whom many people should look up to, even though Lee also succeeds as presenting him as an everyday young boy.

From the beginning of the book, Jem acts as a leader figure to Scout and Dill. Jem is an affectionate and benevolent older brother and allows her to play with him. This is why Scout automatically looks up to him. For example, Jem assists them across the street (Scout and Dill) when investigating the Radley house. After Scout decided to tag along, “Jem held up the bottom wire and motioned Dill under it. I followed, and held up the wire for Jem” (Lee 69). Jem is important to Scout, and so is how well they work together. Without Jem’s major role in Scout’s life, she would not have courage and bravery. Jem and Scout live without a mother for most of their lives and though Calpurnia acts as a mother figure towards Scout, Jem is one of the most influential people in her life. Despite the fact that Jem sometimes tries to act tough and smarter than Scout, he is still a leader who provided guidance.

Jem goes through a difficult, but successful discovery while sitting through the Tom Robinson trial. For example, he does not understand the injustice of racism and realizes that his town and the people he used to look up to are guilty of this infringement. With this struggle weighing him down, Jem does not know what to believe. Atticus always lets Jem know that justice is an important quality to have, and this only makes the confusion stronger because nobody is abiding by those rules. Jem knows that Tom Robinson was innocent and after realizing that Tom was going to jail merely for being black, his perception of his community infuriates him: “Judge Taylor was polling the jury: “Guilty… guilty… guilty… guilty…” I peeked at Jem: his hands were white from gripping the balcony rail, and his shoulders jerked as if each “guilty” was a separate stab between them” (Lee 282). Jem grew up always trusting Maycomb and its kind community, but seeing someone be accused of something they did not do because of the color of their skin makes him uneasy and ultimately deteriorates his trust in society. For instance, since the words “guilty” become “stabs,” the reader begins to recognize the pain and grief of Jem’s sudden loss of innocence.

However, Jem realizes that through the injustice, there can be good in people. Although Tom was put into jail because of racism, Jem discovers that people should still act in goodness because Atticus sets good examples before and after the trial. Throughout the story, Jem tries to listen to Atticus and hopefully even grow up with the same values as him. For example, Jem always fears being a disappointment towards Atticus and hopes to defend Atticus throughout the book given the Tom Robinson trial. After hearing many insults about his father from Mrs. Dubose, Jem decides to violate her camelia’s by cutting the tops off all of the flowers. Scout is confused by the situation. For instance, “In later years, I sometimes wondered exactly what made Jem do it, what made him break the bonds of “You just be a gentleman, son,” and the phase of self-conscious rectitude he had recently entered. Jem had probably stood as much guff about Atticus lawing for niggers as had I, and I took it for granted that he kept his temper—he had a naturally tranquil disposition and a slow fuse” (Lee 136). This situation leaves Scout in awe and her only explanation was that her brother went mad. Atticus plays a clear influential role in Jem’s life and hearing people offend his father sparked anger.

Atticus always taught Jem to act in honor and in the moment, Jem assumes he was standing up for his father. Although Jem might was looked down upon because of his delinquencies, his other qualities yielded leadership to his peers and his sister, Scout. Through his actions, Jem teaches Scout to value the good in life. He uses the importance of his father’s teachings, such as honor and justice, to make a difference in the lives of others.

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