Society is not as innocent to a child as it may appear to be. In fact,when one really understands the society in which he lives he is no longer achild. This is much the same case as found in To Kill A Mockingbird, byLeigh Harper.
Although Jem, being a child at the beginning of the novel, isimmature and unaware of the society in which he lives, he matures mentallyto the point where he sees the evil in society and gains a knowledge ofdeath. Like most children, at the beginning of To Kill A Mockingbird Jem andScout are both young, play together, and have childhood monsters or fearslike other children. Primarily, in To Kill A Mockingbird, Jem is young. Scout states their age when it supposedly all starts: “When I was almostsix and Jem was almost ten.
. . ” (10). Here Jem is only nine years old andtherefore still a moderately young child; it is assumed he is thereforeimmature.
Jem also spends his time playing with his five year old sister. This also occurs very early in the novel: “Early one morning as we werebeginning our day’s play in the back yard, Jem and I heard something nextdoor in Miss Rachel Haverford’s collard patch. ” (11). As the novelprogresses, Jem no longer plays with his sister Scout, but he is doing soat this point and he would appear to anyone as one child playing with hissister. Lastly, Jem has childhood fears like most any child does. Allchildren have their fears or monsters.
In Jem’s case it i rthur Radley,commonly known as Boo: ” Let’s try and make him come out. . . ” Jem said if he wanted to get himself killed, all he had to do was go upand knock on the front door. . .
” It’s just I can’t think of a way to make him come out without himgettin’ us. “. . . When he said that I knew he was afraid. (17-18) Often, during his first summer with Dill, Jem talks of Boo and hishouse much like a child discusses a haunted house.
Primarily it is assumedthat Jem is a child due to three main points that come across; Jem isyoung, plays with his little sister, and has childhood monsters. However,as the novel progresses so does Jem to the point where he matures mentallyenough to see the evil in the society around him. Jem’s awareness of thesociety in which he lives can first be noted when his father accepts thecase of a black man and others begin to talk of him rather rudely: ” Have they been at it?” I (Scout) asked. ” Sort of. She won’t let him alone about Tom Robinson.
She almost said Atticus was disgracing the family. Scout. . .
I’m scared. ” (149) Here Jem gains his first taste of fear from his society in which hisown aunt was getting cross at his father for defending a black man. WhenMr. Robinson is pronounced guilty by a white jury things only heat up forJem: “It was Jem’s turn to cry. His face was streaked with angry tears aswe made our way through the cheerful crowd. ” (214).
Jem grows so angry andfrustrated with the justice system and society in general that he becomesoverwhelmed at this moment and begins to cry bitterly. At this point Jem isno longer a child and when he takes his frustrations to his father it onlybecomes clearer: “It ain’t right, Atticus,” said Jem. “No son, it’s not right. ” (215) The fact that Jem becomes aware of the society around him in thesethree incidents support the theme that Jem is no longer a child but hasmatured mentally to the point where he sees the evil in the society aroundhim.
Just as Jem in his maturity gains a sense of the society around him, he also obtains a knowledge of death. The primary death was that of Mrs. Dubose, the elderly lady down the street:”Did she die free?” asked Jem. “As the mountain air,” said Atticus. . .
“. . . I wanted you to see what real courage is. . .
It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. ” (116) Here Jem and his father Atticus have an emotional talk over the deathof Mrs. Dubose and death itself. She died ready, peacefully, and free ofmorphine, of which she was an addict.
Jem also learns a wonderful lesson ontrue courage at this point in which he is told how true courage is knowingyou’re licked before you start but you persevere anyway. This was the casefor Mrs. Dubose. The second death which occurs that Jem is conscious of inthe novel is that of Tom Robinson: “‘Tom’s dead. ‘” (238). Tom’s death has adifferent effect on Jem.
Rather than being a peaceful death, Tom’s was aviolent, uncalled for, and unfair death. Once again Jem sees the dark halfof the society which killed Tom, an innocent man. However, the mostsignificant brush with death happens to Jem himself when he is attacked bythe vengeful Bob Ewell: We were nearly to the road when I felt Jem’s hand leave me, felt him jerk back- wards to the ground. More scuffling, and there came a dull crunching sound Jem screamed. (265) Here Jem gains an awareness of his own life, his own mortality. Thesethree deaths each had a their own individual effect on Jem, but Jemdefinitely gained an accomplished knowledge of death.
Thus, Jem is a childat the beginning of To Kill A Mockingbird but does mature, gaining a senseof the society surrounding him and a knowledge, or a mature awareness, ofdeath. Jem doesn’t gain these mental developements easily but through muchstruggling, and this is exactly what To Kill A Mockingbird is all about; astruggle with society and learning by placing one’s self in another’sshoes.