In To Kill a Mockingbird, Jem comes up with his own categories for people in the world--his own definition of background. How does he define the four different kinds of folks?

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huntress eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is in Chapter 23. The conversation comes about because Aunt Alexandra has just told Scout that she cannot ever invite Walter Cunningham over because "he--is--trash" (256). Scout is about to explode, but Jem stops her, catching her by the shoulders, putting his arm around her, and guiding her to his bedroom. She is furious. She tells him, "That boy's not trash, Jem. He ain't like the Ewells" (257). This is what leads to Jem's insights about the "four kinds of folks in the world." 

He says, "There's the ordinary kind like us and the neighbors, there's the kind like the Cunninghams out in the woods, the kind like the Ewells down at the dump, and the Negroes" (258). Scout forces him to clarify what he means by the four types of people in Maycomb County. They discuss it a while longer, and Jem finally says, "Background doesn't mean Old Family. I think it's how long your family's been readin' and writin'" (258). 

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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