Explain how Jem and Scout see the legal system in different ways in "To Kill a Mockingbird."

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parkerlee eNotes educator| Certified Educator

With a four-year edge on Scout, Jem evidently has a better understanding than his sister when it comes to law in general and, more particularly, to judicial procedures in court. He quickly catches on to Atticus' defense strategy when he hones in on the left-handedness of Mr Ewell in contrast to Tom's withered left hand. His assumption, however, that this fact will lead to automatic acquittal shows how much he falls short in insight concerning the power of racial prejudice in the Maycomb community. Jem can understand law process but has trouble deciphering the ambiguity of its application.

Scout doesn't understand law terms and protocol or what 'rape' even means, but she is less categoric than her brother in her perception of others. She observes Maycomb citizens as they are and has an innate awareness of the duplicity of human nature. For this reason she can accept the sheriff's and her father's 'doctoring up' of the facts to cover for Boo Radley - Bob Ewell simply "fell on his knife."

After the trial and shooting of Tom, Jem needs time alone to work things out. He is not just disgruntled over the unfairness of the legal system but is disillusioned about people in general. His loss of innocence is the bitter side of his coming of age.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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