In To Kill a Mockingbird, what is learned about the characters from Jem and Scout's differing reactions to the pennies in the knothole?
In Chapter 4, Jem and Scout find two polished Indian-head pennies in the knothole of the Radley tree. When the children bring them home to examine their find, Jem is amazed. Jem immediately looks at the date of the pennies and learns that one of the pennies dates back to 1900. He is impressed that they are that old. However, Scout's immediate concern is whether the knothole is someone's hiding place. She does not want to get into trouble for stealing someone's valuables. After Jem decides what to do with the pennies, he tells his sister that the Indian-head pennies are magical. Jem believes that they are good luck and possess "real strong magic." In Jem's mind, he believes that the Indian-head pennies have the power to give their owners good health and a long life. Jem's reaction reveals his strong imagination and hopeful disposition. Scout's reaction depicts her concern with doing the right thing. Unlike Jem, who is fascinated by the pennies, Scout simply does not want to take someone's valuables and is worried about the consequences of stealing items from the knothole.
The two shiny Indian-head pennies were the final gifts the children received in the knothole from their mysterious benefactor. The pennies seemed to trigger more of a response from Jem than Scout; to Jem, they were magical tokens of good fortune, and probably the most valuable items the children had yet received. Perhaps it was this magical belief that led Jem to decide to try and find the owners at school in case the coins were left in the tree only temporarily. After all, it would be bad luck to steal such powerful items from their rightful owner.