Throughout chapters 10 to 14, inclusive, in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, I found Atticus’s character intriguing. He seems uncommonly sane, especially in the way he handles Jem and Scout (e.g. keeping certain aspects of himself hidden from them, having Jem read to Mrs. Dubose, etc.) This is further shown in his insistence of defending an African American as a lawyer, despite the negative response to that move. This section also revealed the meaning of the title, on page 90: “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
Jem experiences a lot of growth in these few chapters, and his maturity is reflected in his ability to understand events that his sister fails to be moved by. For instance, on page 98, after learning that their father was the “deadest shot in Maycomb county”, Scout is eager to have something to tell her schoolmates about her father, but Jem stops her, realizing that Atticus probably had his reasons for keeping that to himself. And later on, after Atticus forces him to read to Mrs. Dubose for a month, and learns of her condition, he begins to empathize with her, understanding how brave she actually was. This is shown in the last sentences of part 2: “ “Jem picked up the candy box and threw it in the fire. He picked up the camellia, and when I went off to bed, I saw him fingering the wide petals.” (The camellia was sent to Jem by Mrs. Dubose, shortly before she died.)
But, despite his shows of maturity, he is still a pubescent pre-teen, and starts to grow distant from Scout (pg 135, “he was positively allergic to my [Scout’s] presence in public”), and he also grows arrogant in thinking himself more adult-like, which was shown by his revealing Dill to Atticus, when he was trying to remain hidden. Also, on page 99, Jem says, “Atticus is a gentleman, just like me!” This seems to imply that Jem looks up to Atticus, “gentleman” perhaps referring to Atticus’s ability to uphold his morals, and his uncommon sanity in a town of many lacking in that area. The latter part refers to Jem’s belief that he, too, knows what is right, and is demonstrated by the many times he tries to tell Scout what to do.
In class, our discussion brought up the Mockingbird quote at the beginning, and some suggested it might refer to African Americans, who weren’t harmful to anyone, yet were looked down upon by some in the town. This might also refer to Boo Radley, who, while he did actually harm someone, seemed to be trying to connect with the outside world in a positive manner (giving Scout the blanket), but was constantly thwarted by his brother. Also, Boo Radley’s character hasn’t played much of a role in these chapters, I wonder if he will return? Dill is back, after all, but Jem will likely choose not to partake in any of Dill’s Boo Radley schemes. We also discussed Atticus’s character in Chapter 10. In the beginning, he was emphasized as feeble and old, yet it was revealed that he had a talent in shooting. Scout is impressed by this, and wished to share this knowledge with her schoolmates. However, we came to the conclusion that Atticus likely kept this hidden from them to separate the ideas of strength and courage from a man with a gun. I think Jem recognized this lesson, with his ending comment on Atticus being a gentleman, recognizing Atticus’s mental fortitude, especially concerning his sense of righteousness.
I am curious, however – the mockingbird quote is definitely foreshadowing, and I think it might relate to Jem’s broken arm. But will Jem be contributing to killing the “mockingbird”, or protecting it? Also, will Jem continue to look up to his father as a gentlemen, or might his arrogance grow to the point that he starts to contradict Atticus?