How do Scout and Jem learn respect in To Kill a Mockingbird?  

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Since the story is a coming of age tale, Jem and Scout learn a lot of things.  One thing they learn is how to respect all kinds of people.  Part of this is accepting people of different classes and races, and part of it is learning how to see things from other people’s point of view.

The first example of a lesson in respect is when Scout has a confrontation with her teacher, Miss Caroline.  Scout tries to tell her what is going on, and explain life in Maycomb to her, but she does not understand.  Atticus tells Scout that she will get along better with a person if she learns to “climb into his skin and walk around in it" (ch 3).

[If] you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view-(ch 3)

Scout is beginning to learn empathy, or the ability to understand how another person feels.  This is an important life lesson, because Scout learns to appreciate other people’s point of view.

Jem also learns a substantial lesson about respect when Mrs. Dubose’s insults finally send him over the edge.  Jem gets so frustrated that he takes Scout’s baton and attacks Mrs. Dubose’s camellia bushes “until the ground was littered with green buds and leaves” (ch 11).  When Atticus finds out, he sends Jem to apologize and says he does have to do what she wants: read to her daily.  When she dies, Atticus reveals why he wanted Jem to spend time with her.

I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. (ch 11)

Scout and Jem both learn an important lesson from this.  They learn about mental courage.  A central theme in the book is the courage comes in many forms, including moral courage.


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