In To Kill a Mockingbird is Jem motivated by respect and if so how does that desire to be respected impact the other characters in the book?

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jem is motivated by respect because he is getting older and wants to be respected.  He expects respect from Scout, and wants to earn it from his father.  Scout respects Jem, but does not always understand him.

Since Jem is older than Scout, he expects her to respect him.  Atticus points out to his brother that Scout does respect her older brother.

She's coming along, though. Jem's getting older and she follows his example a good bit now. All she needs is assistance sometimes. (ch 9)

In fact, while Scout often complains about Jem’s efforts to correct her behavior, she generally tries to win his approval.

…Jem was not highly critical unless you said something stupid. (ch 24)

The person Jem most wants respect from is his father.  When he accidentally loses his pants trying to sneak on to Boo Radley’s porch, he goes back to get them.  He is not afraid of punishment.  He does not want Atticus to find out because he wants Atticus to respect him.  He tells Scout that Atticus has never whipped him, and she asks if he has never caught him doing something wrong.

"Maybe so, but- I just wanta keep it that way, Scout. We shouldn'a done that tonight, Scout." (ch 6)

This statement represents a good deal of maturity on Jem’s part, because he realizes messing with Boo Radley is wrong.  It also demonstrates that he cares more about Atticus’s respect than his own life, since the children know Radley has a shotgun.

Since Scout is not yet where Atticus is in life, she does not really understand his need for respect.  As a result, they begin to grow more apart at this stage.

Sometimes I did not understand him, but my periods of
bewilderment were short-lived. This was beyond me. (ch 6)

The incident, and Jem's need for respect, demonstrates his maturity and distance from his little sister and childhood things.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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