How did society shape and influence Jem in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter 21, the jury declares that Tom is guilty. Jem is severely affected by this. The next chapter begins with Jem crying and telling Atticus "It ain't right." Jem then discusses things with Miss Maudie. Jem says he used to think the people of Maycomb were the best people in the world. Jem no longer thinks this. In an effort to give Jem some hope, Miss Maudie tells him that there are good people in town: Heck Tate, Atticus, and Tom's friends and family. Jem is left with a glimmer of hope but a larger feeling of disappointment with his local society. Tom's conviction proves to Jem that racism is a real problem in Maycomb. 

In Chapter 23, Scout says she would like to invite Walter Cunningham Jr. over. Aunt Alexandra forbids it and, of course, Atticus challenges Alexandra. Later in the chapter, Jem and Scout discuss this idea of different kinds of folks. Here, they are actually discussing how societies are divided into classes. It is quite an academic and ethical conversation, with each of them trying to understand why certain folks (classes) could or should get along together. At the end of the chapter, Jem concludes that these class divisions serve no good purpose. With this conclusion, he sees some wisdom in Boo Radley's self-imposed seclusion: 

If there’s just one kind of folks, why can’t they get along with each other? If they’re all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other? Scout, 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 this time… it’s because he wants to stay inside. 

Jem recognizes that people do divide themselves into different classes. There should be "just one kind of folks" but this is not the case. With the jury's decision and this growing awareness of social division, Jem becomes more and more aware of the ethical problems of social divisions. 

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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