What do Scout and Jem learn about the realities of the adult world in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird?
I need some specific examples, please, as I already know that they are faced with the stunning fact that righteousness is sometimes toppled by injustice and that the world is not always just. Thank you!
2 Answers | Add Yours
From the characters of Boo Radley and Dolphus Raymond, Jem and Scout learn that people are not always what they seem: that appearances can be deceptive and that rumors spread by adults are most often not true. Boo turns out to be the children's protective savior and a hero by the end of the story instead of the bloodthirsty ghoul that Miss Stephanie suggests; Raymond's unusual actions are meant to ease others who could never understand the decisions he makes. The children find that they can always trust in Atticus to do the right thing and provide them with proper guidance without sugar-coating the sometimes cruel facts of the adult world. He calmly explains the strict definition of rape to Scout in such a manner that she seems bored with the answer and never asks again; and he chastizes his brother Jack for beating around the bush when Scout asks him "What's a whore-lady?"
The children witness racism and the injustice of the Southern courts during their up-close look at the trial of Tom Robinson. They learn the hard fact that in 1930s Alabama, a white man's word is always accepted over the word of a black man--even if the white man is the scurrilous Bob Ewell.
... in the secret courts of men's hearts Atticus had no case. Tom was a dead man the minute Mayella Ewell opened her mouth and screamed. (Chapter 25)
Jem and Scout find that people react differently to the poverty that exists during the Great Depression. Some are poor and proud, like the Cunninghams; gentlemanly like Little Chuck Little; humble and honest like Tom; and perpetually evil like Bob Ewell. The most deeply religious characters, like old Mr. Ewell and Mrs. Merriweather, "the most devout woman in Maycomb," are far from model Christians: Mr. Radley's treatment of Boo turns his son into a lonely recluse, while Mrs. Merriweather exhibits a desire to help people a world away while spouting hatred for her black brethren in Maycomb. Most of all, the children discover that they are not immune to the actions of adults, and that their lives as innocent mockingbirds are not sheltered from the evil that exists around them.
In Chapter 23 of To Kill a Mockingbird, there are a few examples of moments when Scout and Jem learn that the adult world has more than its share of injustices. One example is when Aunt Alexandra calls Walter Cunningham "trash." And Scout is subjected to this bigotry after Calpurnia had told her (earlier in the novel) to treat everyone equally. This is clearly and example where Calpurnia is shown to be more open-minded than Aunt Alexandra. Scout supposes that she might ask Walter over after school. Alexandra can't get past the social history: the Cunninghams have tended to be poor and the Finches have tended to be more financially well off. This is prejudice pure and simple, and it is a prejudice based on class: Alexandra believes (or tries to make herself and others believe) in a society where the borders between classes are relatively strict. Alexandra is certainly not the worst of those in Maycomb, but she does exhibit some elitist positions.
Responding to Jem's disbelief that Tom could be innocent and yet still convicted, Atticus tells him that even though the jury was filled with 12 ordinarily reasonable men, sometimes things get in the way of that reason. Emphasizing the disadvantages African-Americans have when compared with whites, Atticus says, "As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it—whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash" (117).
Lee is definitely juxtaposing Alexandra's comments about Walter with Atticus' analysis of race relations. Alexandra says Walter is "trash" and she bases this solely on the low income of his family tree. Atticus says that any white man cheats a black man (the white man already having an advantage), then he, the white man, is "trash." This doesn't equate Alexandra with "trash" (although one cannot justify what she says to Scout), but it does imply that people like Bob Ewell and also the jurors are trash for having cheated Tom Robinson. The kids learn that many adults will judge each other based on money, skin color, and family history.
At the end of this chapter, Jem concludes that Boo Radley stays in his house because he'd rather avoid the way folks despise each other.
We’ve answered 318,988 questions. We can answer yours, too.Ask a question