How do Scout and Jem mature through Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the opening of Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout and Jem Finch are quite young, with Scout being a precocious five and Jem nine years old. There are really two plots to the novel, the first concerning the children Scout and Jem and the second concerning Atticus Finch and his attempt to get justice for Robinson, a black man falsely accused of rape. These two plots work together, in that we see the effect of a strongly moral parent on the ethical development of the children.

We first encounter Scout and Jem indulging in childish curiosity about their reclusive neighbor Boo Radley. They give no real thought to how he might feel at being treated as a spectacle, but are not shown as bad-hearted children, just as young and naive. Their first sign of maturity is their (failed) attempt to place a thank-you note in the tree, a sign that they are polite and considerate children. As the book progresses, the children become aware of Boo's secret acts of kindness and reveal them to their father, showing increased maturity in the way they begin to understand Boo as a real person rather than as just entertainment. Their support of their father's attempt to find justice for Robinson is also evidence of their growing maturity and ability to resist peer pressure.

Jem's relationship with Mrs. Dubose also shows how his father's guidance leads Jem not to react impulsively but to think through other people's histories and motivations before reacting to their behavior. It is also an episode about overcoming fear and understanding that anger is often born from fear.

Another major episode showing the children's increasing strength and maturity is when Scout talks to Walter Cunningham, reminding him that she is his son's schoolmate and defusing the potential for the assembly of people to turn into a lynch mob. 

The final resolution of the novel, in which Boo and the children become friends, shows that they have learned to take their place within society, using reason and empathy to relate to people in an adult fashion.

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both Jem and Scout mature into morally upright individuals with sympathy and perspective. At the beginning of the novel, both Jem and Scout fear Boo Radley and do not understand the prejudice throughout their community. Both children learn valuable lessons and experience significant events, which affect their perspective of life. Jem learns about real courage from his experience with Mrs. Dubose, and Scout learns about perspective from her interaction with Miss Caroline. Atticus also teaches his children important lessons concerning race, respect, tolerance, and equality. After witnessing racial injustice for the first time, both Jem and Scout lose their childhood innocence. Although Jem becomes jaded, he realizes the importance of standing up for what is right. Scout also understands the importance of protecting innocent beings and comprehends the significance of her father's defense of Tom Robinson. By the end of the novel, neither child fears Boo Radley, and both of the Finch children develop into empathetic, respectful individuals. 

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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