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Character change is an important indicator of a story’s theme. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is a book about the prejudices people have toward others. It’s not just about violent racism, but also the judgments we make in our daily interactions with neighbors and family members. In the story, we see how Atticus’ children, Jem and Scout, learn about their own prejudices. This requires important and difficult change on the part of these characters.
At one point in the book, one of their neighbors, Mrs. Dubose, says hateful things to Jem about his father Atticus:
Your father’s no better than the niggers and trash he works for!
Jem responds by tearing up Mrs. Dubose’s yard. When Atticus finds out he makes Jem read to her for a month. It turns out that Jem was reading to her to help her overcome her morphine addiction before she died. Jem and Scout learned that although Mrs. Dubose was a “cantankerous” old lady, there was something else to her. According to Atticus, she was very courageous for giving up morphine although she knew she was going to die and could have just as easily kept taking it.
They also learn that one of Atticus’ favorite sayings is true. Scout explains in the last few pages:
Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.
This quote shows that Scout (and Jem) have come to understand that their neighbor, Boo Radley, was not the monster they thought he was. It was an important lesson to learn.
At the beginning of the novel, Scout acts very impetuously. Her response to getting in trouble with Miss Caroline at school was to beat Walter in the play yard. By the end of the novel, she is trying to "put herself an the other person's shoes." She is thinking outside of her own intentions and trying to understand others. This is especially true as she tries to understand the changes in Jem. Jem is changed and matured through his realization of the corruption of man. He is bitterly angry at first, lashing out at Mrs. Dubose. Later, he becomes resigned to the failures of man, saying that perhaps Boo Radley kept away from society to avoid the corruption of it. In the end, Jem has developed into a strong individual that refuses to be a victim to the corruption of society. He stands against Bob Ewell, protecting his sister. He becomes a protector of the innocent, just like his father.
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