What does it mean to Jem that Atticus never whipped him?The book is "To Kill a Mockingbird."

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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Atticus ain't ever whipped me as long as I can remember. I wanta keep it that way." So says Jem to Scout on the night in which he lost his pants in Harper Lee's novel "To Kill a Mockingbird." Disobeying Atticus's directive to stay away from the Radley house, Jem, Scout and Dill decide to try and get a look at Boo one night, but a moving shadow and a blast from Nathan Radley's shotgun sends them back home in a hurry. But Jem leaves one item behind--his pants--and later that night he decides to go back and get them before they are returned to Atticus, and his lie about losing them playing strip poker is exposed.

Scout warns her brother that a licking from Atticus is better than being shot at, but Jem wants to keep his slate clean.

It seemed Atticus threatened us every other day. "You mean he's never caught you at anything."
"Maybe so, but--I just wanta keep it that way, Scout. We shouldn'a done that tonight, Scout."

Jem is growing more mature each day, and he knows right from wrong. He has become too old to spank, and he does not want to force Atticus's hand now. So he decides to risk the wrath of Radley and find his pants. Jem retrieves them, but not in the way he expected.


gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In chapter 6, Jem and the children raid the Radley yard and narrowly escape as Nathan begins shooting his shotgun in the air. While the children are escaping the Radley yard, Jem gets his pants caught underneath the fence and is forced to leave them behind as he runs away. Later that night, Jem makes the difficult decision to return to the Radley yard in order to retrieve his pants. When Scout begs her brother not to go back because she fears he will be shot by Nathan, Jem tells her,

I—it’s like this, Scout. . . Atticus ain’t ever whipped me since I can remember. I wanna keep it that way (Lee, 57).

Jem reveres his father and wants to please Atticus every chance he gets. Jem is proud of the fact that Atticus has never had to whip him and does not want to disappoint his father. Jem is also maturing and wants his father to trust him. Knowing that Atticus will be disappointed and lose his trust in him if Nathan discovers his pants, Jem takes a risk by returning to the Radley yard to retrieve his trousers. Fortunately, Jem safely retrieves his pants and avoids being whipped by his father. 

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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