What are some examples of how Jem is motivated by a desire for respect in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird? 

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Jem is old enough to want to be treated with respect. This presents itself in several instances. 

First, Jem does not want to be treated like a child. In Chapter Six, when the youngsters almost get caught sneaking around the Radley yard, Jem confesses to Scout that he does not want Atticus to have reason to spank him:

"I—it's like this, Scout," he muttered. "Atticus ain't ever whipped me since I can remember. I wanta keep it that way."

We can infer that being spanked would not only embarrass him, but would put him on the same level as Scout. (Uncle Jack spanks her when she swears at her cousin at Christmas time for insulting Atticus.) Jem considers himself more mature than Scout, and deserving of more respect.

Jem's age lends itself a great deal to his desire for more respect. When he has hair on his chest, he proudly shows Scout. This is also evident in the change that takes place between Scout and Jem, as he chooses to spend more time alone.

Many of the games the children play are initiated by Jem, the oldest of the three. He tries to demonstrate courage and manliness in ways including being brave enough to touch the Radley house and by fighting.

Jem demands respect from Dill and Scout. His desire to prove himself and earn Dill's respect is seen when Jem allows Dill to torment him into proving his bravery by running and touching the Radley house. When Jem shows a healthy fear of "hot steams," Scout makes fun of him in front of Dill; this incident can be seen as a source of embarrassment to Jem—when his sister shows a lack of respect...and he plans—and carries out—his revenge.

Jem also wants to be respected by others. In one situation, the attack comes from an adult: Mrs. Dubose. Mrs. Dubose is a nasty, sick woman that never has anything nice to say to Jem or Scout when they walk past her house. In Chapter Eleven, she insults Atticus for defending Tom Robinson. Atticus has already warned the children that they will struggle with reactions by the townspeople. However, when Mrs. Dubose insults Atticus, we can infer that Jem is also insulted, and he takes it upon himself to make her pay by destroying her flowers. It is not difficult to believe that Jem feels Mrs. Dubose's lack of respect not only for Atticus, but also for him.

Jem certainly feels a lack of respect from his peers in that Atticus does not play football. However, all is forgotten when Atticus is called upon to kill Tim Johnson, when the children learn that Atticus is a crack shot.

We can also infer a desire on Jem's part to be respected in being allowed to do the things an adult would do. This is particularly evident when Jem goes to Tom Robinson's court trial. He believes he is old enough to be in the courtroom, and even thinks he should be allowed to stay when Calpurnia comes to take the children home for dinner. Jem's understanding of the proceedings gives the reader to believe that he is not a child anymore. 

In being perceived as a young man, Jem desires more respect.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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