Why does Scout’s question upset Jem in "To Kill a Mockingbird"? Is there a simple answer, or any answer to the question?
“How can you hate Hitler an’ then turn around an be ugly about folks right at home? "
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This question puts Jem, essentially, on the same level as Hitler: Both are acting out of some form of hatred. Scout points this out with the simplicity of her question, and by doing so, she redirects Jem's attention from local matters to those more global.
The analogy that the question raises isn't exactly flawless, however: In the case of Hitler, millions of Jews were exterminated out of hate and fear. In the case of Jem, derogatory comments and derivative gossip are the culprits. The two aren't exactly equal, even though they are motivated by the same emotions.
- Scout’s question upsets Jem because it mentions the courthouse. This is where Tom Robinson was prosecuted and Jem does not want to remember anything from that day. The question is bringing up thoughts that Jem is trying to block out but when Scout asks such as question all the thoughts come racing back into his mind and this upsets him.
At first glance this question doesn't make sense. For Scout raw, savage feelings such as hate are reserved for abstractions - people and things far away from Maycomb and the people she knows. Jem's honest reaction brings that hate home, on territory and among people she knows and loves. The defense mechanism of distancing or displacement is broken down and Scout is left feeling particulary vulnerable.
See the reference below for a list of defense mechanisms and how they work.
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