Harper Lee did a really nice job with the ending. On Page 279, Scout recaps everything that happened over the past few years, but from Arthur Radley’s perspective.
“It was fall, and his children fought on the sidewalk in front of Mrs. Dubose’s. The boy helped his sister to her feet and they made their way home. Fall, and his children trotted to and fro around the corner, the day’s woes and triumphs on their faces. They stopped at an oak tree, delighted, puzzled, and apprehensive. “
“Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.”
The book often contrasted Jem’s newfound “maturity” with Scout’s naivety, but this quote demonstrates how much Scout has grown through the book. Before, Jem had to explain to her why she couldn’t brag about Atticus’s shooting abilities at school. But, later, she is able to understand that Boo Radley killed Mr. Ewell, and that they must conceal that with the lie that Mr. Ewell killed himself. Scout is able to put herself in Arthur Radley’s shoes, and understand his perspective, from the secret life she’s always been curious about.
I also found it interesting how, on page 278, Scout mentions, after walking Boo back to his house, “I never saw him again.” I would think that this might be the beginning of Boo’s return to society, but I suppose that might be against his brother’s wishes – and, as Jem noted, he wanted to stay inside, only coming out when his children needed him.
Through the several years, Jem evolved – from a child, to a teen, and finally to a young adult. His core characteristics have been bravery and moral righteousness, though the latter sometimes came across as arrogance, especially in his interactions with Scout, in which Jem often tells her what she should do. However, near the end of the book, Scout notes that, “Jem was becoming almost as good as Atticus at making you feel right when things go wrong “ (pg 259). This shows that he is gradually moving away from that arrogance, and is getting better at empathizing with people.
Compared to the other characters, Jem was affected significantly by the Tom Robinson case, perhaps even more than Atticus was. He legitimately believed that the jury would evaluate the evidence just as Jem did, and make a decision in a manner he considered “fair”. Ong pg. 212, “It was Jem’s turn to cry. His face was streaked with angry tears as we made our way through the cheerful crowd. ‘It ain’t right, ‘ he muttered.” Having been raised by Atticus, and being around people like Miss Maudie, Jem was probably under the impression that more people were fair (availability heuristic type thing), i.e. evaluated evidence without regard to race – it came as a nasty shock to him that most people in the town didn’t think like he did. This came as a challenge to his innate sense of what is good. Previously, he alludes to the fact that he wants to become a lawyer, just like Atticus. I wonder if this’ll inspire further him to join Atticus in doing what the rest of the town is too afraid to do.
In class, we discussed who killed Bob Ewell. The general consensus was that it was Boo Radley. On page 276, Mr. Tate says, “Mr. Finch, taking the one man who’s done you and this town a great service an’ draggin’ him with his shy ways into the limelight – to me, that’s a sin. It’s a sin and I’m not about to have it on my head. If it was any other man it’d be different. But not this man, Mr. Finch.” The “shy ways” part really points to Boo, as opposed to, say, Jem. Furthermore, Atticus thanks Boo for his children before he leaves.
We also discussed why To Kill A Mockingbird is considered a “simple love story”. Some of us suggested that it showed how love was shown in many forms – between Atticus and his children, Scout and Dill, Atticus and Aunt Alexandra, Scout/Jem and Calpurnia, etc. But, also, the book could be considered a lovestory between Scout and Boo Radley. Scout is shown fantasizing about seeing him – “Maybe someday we would see him. I imagined how it would be: when it happened, he’d just be sitting in the swing when I came along. ‘Hidy do, Mr. Arthur.’ “ Much of her (and Jem and Dill’s) childhood is spent drawing him out of his house. And in the end, Boo saves her life. Ultimately, it’s Boo that teaches Scout true empathy, just as it was Mrs. Dubose that taught Jem empathy.
In our second discussion, we also introduced the ideas of William James’s “On a certain blindness in human beings.” We’re blinded by feelings – whenever we evaluate something, the feeling it evokes dominates our judgement, perhaps afterwards we rationalize it with seemingly logical arguments. We’re also blinded by our inherently biased perspective in life – everything is juxtaposed with our own experiences and what we feel is important, making it difficult to truly empathize with others. To Kill a Mockingbird was narrated by a child, and, as Mr. Dolphus Raymond noted, “Because you’re children and you can understand.” As a child, Scout is more accepting and understanding of others. Furthermore, because of this fact, people like Boo and Mr. Raymond tend to be more open with them.
This blindness, however, permeated the society in several forms – first, in the form of inaction. In HPMOR, Professor Quirrell mentions, “When you are older, you will learn that the first and foremost thing which any ordinary person does is nothing.” This is especially true in Maycomb, where the citizens depend on Atticus to do what is right. Whether they subscribe to the Jim Crow ideas ingrained in society, or live in fear of breaching that very code, they rationalize their lack of action or advocacy in racism in some way, that is likely not consistent with their morals. Even today, James’s blindness persists. Perhaps it’s even become enhanced, as our lives become more well-documented with the rise of social media, and it becomes ever-important to shield yourself with a facade as you become visible to millions of others, making true empathy a difficult task.