Discuss how even though Jem and Scout have a very close relationship, they are typical children and have a sibling rivalry in To Kill a Mockingbird.

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Jem and Scout are close because they have no mother, and their small family consists of just the two children and their father.  However, there is also a large age gap between them.  Because of this, they do not always understand each other.  Also, since Jem is a boy and Scout is a girl, there is sometimes conflict. 

For example, while Scout is thrilled to begin school now that she is in first grade, Jem does not necessarily want to be seen with her.  They play together all summer, but she is just his annoying little sister while they are at school. 

Jem condescended to take me to school the first day, a job usually done by one’s parents, but Atticus had said Jem would be delighted to show me where my room was. I think some money changed hands in this transaction, for as we trotted around the corner past the Radley Place I heard an unfamiliar jingle in Jem’s pockets. (Ch. 2) 

Jem tells Scout not to talk to him at school, because she is in first grade and he is in fifth grade.  She is supposed to stick to the kids of her grade level and not embarrass him.  When Jem is in school, he has kids his own age and gender to hang out with.  He expects Scout to do the same. 

Jem also complains about Scout when he thinks she is acting “like a girl.”  Usually this means that she is afraid of something or disagrees with himself about something. 

“See there?” Jem was scowling triumphantly. “Nothin‘ to it. I swear, Scout, sometimes you act so much like a girl it’s mortifyin’.” (Ch. 4) 

When Jem has Dill to play with, Scout sometimes finds herself on her own.  At these times she might sit and talk to Miss Maudie, who treats her with respect and not as a child.  Miss Maudie is also a “girl” so she can understand Scout.  As much as Scout is a tomboy, she is just not a boy. 

As close as Scout and Jem are, as Jem gets older Scout gets confused by his behavior.  He pushes her out, and Scout complains to Atticus and Calpurnia. 

This change in Jem had come about in a matter of weeks. Mrs. Dubose was not cold in her grave—Jem had seemed grateful enough for my company when he went to read to her. Overnight, it seemed, Jem had acquired an alien set of values and was trying to impose them on me: several times he went so far as to tell me what to do. (Ch. 12) 

Scout does not believe that Jem is old enough to boss her around.  She is frustrated when he tries to tell her what to do, and even threatens to spank her.  This results in fights between the two of them and gets both of them in trouble.  Atticus tells Scout that she has to do what Jem asks when he can make her. 

The trial brings about a difficult time for the entire family.  Jem is convinced that Robinson will be acquitted because he thinks he is old enough to understand the legal process.  Scout understands less, but is able to follow enough to be skeptical.  The trial serves to make them seem even further apart.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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