In Chapter 15 of To Kill A Mockingbird, why does Jem openly defy and disobey Atticus?
In Chapter 15 of To Kill A Mockingbird, why does Jem openly defy and disobey Atticus by refusing to leave? What does this suggest about Jem's character?
Jem's actions in Chapter 15 of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee are almost a male rite of passage for him. For, perceiving his father in a predicament which it does not appear that he can solve, Jem decides to prove his mettle as a man and conquer the situation for his father. In the words or Walt Whitman, "the child becomes the father."
This individual action of Jem's, in addition to demonstrating his maturation in this bildungsroman, also points to Harper Lee's motif of the individual thought vs. conventional wisdom. The children of Atticus Finch are developing as individual's and are able to think outside the "disease of Maycomb's" conventional wisdom on such things as relgion, race, and social status. For his expression of individuality, as well as his courage, Atticus, as he ruffles Jem's hair, expresses his pride and love for his son.
In Chapter 15, Scout, Dill, and Jem venture downtown--without anyone's permission--to find out where Atticus is and what he's doing. When they realize that Atticus is sitting outside outside of Tom Robinson's cell, they decide that they should return home. Before they are able to leave, though, a caravan of cars pulls up to the jail and men dressed in heavy clothing (despite the fact that it is a hot summer night) get out and confront Atticus. When it seems that there might be trouble, the children break through the mob and run to Atticus.
Atticus immediately orders Jem to go home, and to take Scout and Dill home with him. In his first act of defiance, though, Jem refuses. Interestingly, Scout notices a resemblance between Jem and her father, and notes that though their physical features differ, "mutual defiance made them alike" (152).
Jem continues to refuse to leave the jail, as he is old enough, and mature enough, to recognize that his decision to stay will probably prevent the mob from causing Atticus harm and harming--or even killing--Tom Robinson.
In chapters 12-14, we begin to see Jem's maturation process; at this point in the novel, he is 12 years old, and he is beginning to act more like an adult. Though Jem takes a risk by openly defying his father, he realizes that the consequences of his defiance are much less severe than the consequences of leaving would be.
Though Scout is too young to fully understand the situation, it is her innocence, not Jem's defiance, that ultimately makes the mob, led by Water Cunningham, leave. At the end of the chapter, the naive Scout observes, "I assumed that Atticus was giving [Jem] hell for not going home, but I was wrong. As they passed under a streetlight, Atticus reached out and massaged Jem's hair, his one gesture of affection" (155). Obviously, Atticus is proud of Jem for doing what he believed was the right thing--even though it was difficult.
At this point, we start to see that Jem has actually started to build his own character and he has found ways to exert his own will. In this case, he is demonstrating not just his loyalty to his father in deciding to stay with him, but also that he can decide for himself what is best, in some ways actually creating quite the paradox.
In some ways, the mob also serves as a great contrast to the way that the children behave. There is a group of men, with all the strength of the group that demonstrates their cowardice in direct response to the children being willing to remain in this dangerous situation with Atticus.