Explain what a person needs to do in order to "act responsibly" in the 1930's in Maycomb, Alabama, in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

Expert Answers
carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Learning to act responsibly---this is one of the lessons that Jem Finch learns in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  If a person acts responsibly, what does that mean? A person must be sensible, dependable, reliable, mature, and conscientious.

 Jem is ten years old in the beginning of the story told as flashback by his adult sister Jean Louise [Scout]. Throughout the story, Jem matures into a young man who can be trusted. He learns to act as a responsible young man.

What does it mean to act responsibly in the south of the 1930s?  As it is today, the way to act responsibly is to do the right thing in whatever situation a person finds himself.  If someone needs help---like Mayella Ewell---assist her.  Unfortunately for Tom Robinson, those around him as well as the authorities did not act in a responsible manner.  They convicted an innocent man. In addition, he was almost hanged by a group of bigots who were ready to kill him and possibly Atticus until a small girl identified one of the mob and brought shame to these men.

What incidents made Jem show his maturity through his actions?

Jem destroys Mrs. Dubose’s camellias.  In order to make up for this, he is forced to read to her for a month.  For a month, Jem reads to Mrs. Dubose who often is mean, cranky and moody.  When he discovers about a month later that Mrs. D. died, Jem learns that the old lady was going off her drugs so she could die clean. Jem’s reading was a diversion to make it easier for her to have something to look forward to.

When Dill runs away, Jem shows a new level of maturity and responsibility when he tells Atticus. Dill This was a traitorous action for a child; however, Jem, the maturing young man, knew that everyone would be worried about where Dill was. He acted sensibly.

Jem was standing in a corner of the room, looking like the traitor he was. "Dill, I had to tell him," he said. "You can't run three hundred miles off without your mother knowin'."

The night of the fall school pageant Jem accompanies Scout to the school since Atticus was too tired to attend.   Cecil Jacobs scares Jem and Scout on the way.  After the program, the kids are delayed in starting home; everyone else has left the school area.  Jem begins to think that someone is following them again. 

Jem tells Scout to be quiet, and suddenly, a fight begins.  Scout is caught in her ham costume and cannot help Jem.  Scout hears Jem groan when the other person breaks his arm.  Jem acted with maturity when he fought to save his sister from the attacker.

To act without concern---Jem saw that seemingly good men could act irresponsibly when they convict the innocent Tom Robinson.  This was a turning point for Jem who vowed to be a lawyer like his father and stand up for what is right. 

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question