Explain the quotation at the end of Chapter 23 of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  What makes Jem come this conclusion?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the end of Chapter 23 in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Jem demonstrates his growing maturity when he makes this statement:

“I think I’m beginning to understand something.  I think I ‘m beginning to understand why Boo Radley’s stayed shut up in the house all of the time…it’s because he wants to stay inside.”

This chapter serves as a springboard for discussion concerning prejudice---Not just of racial prejudice, but for women, the white race in the community, the courtroom, and the family.  There are many situations in which the children have to face bias with the hope that their upbringing has given them the background to stand up for what they believe. 

1st situation

Jem is angry about the jury system.  He believes when a man can be found guilty by a group of white men with no blacks on the jury there is nothing fair about the system. Jem and Atticus discuss the kinds of evidence that should be used to prove the guilt or innocence and leave no reasonable doubt. Atticus stanchly believes that the one place a man should be able to get a “square deal” is in the courtroom with a jury of his peers.

2nd situation

Both of the children learn that women are discriminated against.  In Alabama, a woman at the time could not serve on a jury. Atticus gives a comical reason for why the women cannot serve on jury---they are too frail. In Jem’s mind, Mrs. Dubose and Miss Maudie would be excellent on  a jury.  They were outspoken and would not put up with foolishness.

3rd situation

Aunt Alexandra refuses Scout’s desire to ask Walter Cunningham to lunch when school starts and for him to stay over and play.  Aunt Alexandra thinks that the Cunninghams are not the Finches kind of people. Eventually, Scout forces the truth out of her aunt: to her, the Cunninghams are trash, and they are not to be in the same circle as the Finch children.

The prejudice displayed by the aunt tells Scout that the Cunninghams are not good enough for the Finch women even if they wear new clothes and change their ways.  They are drinkers.  Calpurnia intercepts Scout and tells her that it is fine to be nice to Walter; but she did not have to bring him home. Scout does not accept her aunt’s way of thinking.

All of these instances create in Jem frustration about the caste system in Maycomb. He says that there are four different kinds of people in Maycomb county: ordinary people like the Finch family; people like the Cunninghams in the woods; people like the Ewells by the dump; and black people.  Each of the types of people looks down on the other.  It is a no win situation with everyone thinking that they are better than the next. The aunt still believes in family background which Jem has decided is not important.  It is education and the way a person lives that is the most important thing. 

From these discussions, Jem believes that Boo is safer to stay inside the house to avoid all these weighty matters.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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