What are the most important lessons Jem and Scout learned in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Scout takes to heart the advice she gets from Atticus when he cautions her that

"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view--until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."  (Chapter 3)

She immediately puts it into use, stepping into the shoes of her teacher, Miss Caroline, to understand all of the mistakes she had made on her first day of teaching. She tests Burris Ewell's actions in the same manner, and during the trial, she climbs into the skin of both Bob and Mayella in order to better understand their motives. Much later, she decides that she wants to be friends with Walter Cunningham Jr., though Aunt Alexandra refuses to acknowledge that he is anything more than "trash." At the end of the novel Scout stands on the Radley porch looking out over her neighborhood as if standing in Boo's shoes. Scout also recognizes the importance of Atticus's warning that "it's a sin to kill a mockingbird." She understands the symbolism of the human mockingbird--an innocent being--found in B. B. Underwood's editorial that compares Tom's death to the "senseless slaughter of songbirds"; and on Halloween, she decides that "draggin' him [Boo] with his shy ways into the limelight" would

"... be sort of like shootin' a mockingbird, wouldn't it?"  (Chapter 30)

As for Jem, the greatest lesson he learns is that the world is filled with injustice and deceit. From Nathan Radley's lie about sealing the secret knothole to the prejudice found in the jury verdict, Jem begins to see that some things in life just "ain't right." Unlike Scout, who believes "there's just one kind of folks. Folks...," Jem recognizes the different classes of Maycomb's social order, and that "they go out of their way to despise each other."


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