How do Scout, Jem, and/or Dill show signs of mistakes in judgment--especially concerning racism--in To Kill a Mockingbird?   

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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As do all children, Jem, Scout and Dill are guilty of many mistakes in judgement during the course of the story. All three of them falsely believe Boo Radley is guilty of the stories told about him, only recognizing much later that he is a friendly though invisible neighbor. They make a risky raid on the Radley property that results in their lives being put in jeopardy. The same is true on the night they join Atticus at the jail when he confronts the lynch mob, refusing to obey his orders to leave the men and return home. Both of the children believe Atticus to be old and "feeble," but they soon see that besides his secret marksmanship skills, he is a brave and humble gentleman and highly competent lawyer.

Scout wants to quit school after a single bad day, and she blames Walter Cunningham Jr. for her own troubles with Miss Caroline, "rubbing his nose in the dirt" of the schoolyard as punishment. She often uses her fists in anger, ignoring her father's advice to turn the other cheek and be tolerant of others' feelings. Jem is better at controlling his temper, but he loses it when Mrs. Dubose insults Atticus. He pays for his crime of destroying the old lady's camellias by reading to her for a month, and he learns two things: that he was wrong for losing his temper since her words came from a morphine-induced addiction, and that the penalty imposed by Atticus benefited him in the end. As for Dill, he finally comes to see that the exaggerated stories he tells are unnecessary, since Jem and Scout choose to be his friend because of his other positive attributes. Dill makes a dangerous trip to Maycomb after running away from home, and he finally comes to terms with his unhappy life back home in Meridian.

As far as their attitudes toward racism, the children are influenced by both the town and their father. Scout uses the word "nigger" because she has picked it up at school, not home; when Atticus warns her not to use it because it's "common," Scout restricts her usage. The children are surprised at some of the things they learn on their visit to Calpurnia's church, but they feel perfectly at home with her friends; when Reverend Sykes invites them to sit with him in the Negro section in the balcony of the courtroom, they happily join him. Although Scout at first believes Tom Robinson "could have done it" to Mayella, she soon sees the truth, and all of the children sympathize with the injustice Tom receives from the biased jury. Dill, in particular, is sickened by Tom's treatment at the hands of the prosecutor. When Scout responds that "after all, he's just a Negro," Dill defends Tom, claiming that "somehow it ain't right to do 'em that way."

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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