What are examples of Jem and Scout learning how to behave in society in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Many examples of Scout and Jem learning to behave in society can be found all throughout Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. Since each published version of the book will vary in page numbers, only approximations of locations in the book can be given.

One example of Scout learning to behave concerns learning to control her temper. Since Atticus knows she will be faced with more and more ridicule due to his decision to defend Tom Robinson, he also knows she must not make matters worse by picking fist fights every chance she gets. Atticus gives her the following warning in the beginning of Chapter 9:

No matter what anybody says to you, don't you let 'em get your goat. Try fighting with your head for a change ... it's a good one, even it does resist learning. (Ch. 9)

By Chapter 11, we see that Scout has taken Atticus's advice to heart and learned her lesson. In Chapter 11, when the children are severely antagonized by Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose, ironically, Jem, who is normally very calm, flies off the handle, destroying all of the camellia flowers in Mrs. Dubose's garden, whereas Scout remains calm. Scout notes the irony of their change in temperaments in the following passage found within the first four pages of the chapter:

In later years, I sometimes wondered exactly what made Jem do it, what made him break the bonds of "You be a gentleman, son," and the phase of self-conscious rectitude he had recently entered. Jem had probably stood as much guff about Atticus lawing for niggers as had I, and I took it for granted that he kept his temper--he had a naturally tranquil disposition. (Ch. 11)

Hence, one way in which Scout learns to behave is by learning to control her temper. In contrast, Jem's temper becomes more severe the more he endures hearing his father ridiculed.

While Jem's temper does increase, Jem also learns a lesson in behavior in this same chapter. As recompense for destroying Mrs. Dubose's flowers, Jem is told to read to Mrs. Dubose each afternoon. The more he has to listen to her rant and rave, the more he is able to take his father's lesson of being a gentleman to heart. Jem behaves like a gentleman by always responding to Mrs. Dubose respectfully, no matter how much she antagonized him. Scout notes Jem's change in behavior in the following passage found approximately two to three pages near the end of the chapter:

Jem's chin would come up, and he would gaze at Mrs. Dubose with a face devoid of resentment. Through the weeks he had cultivated an expression of polite and detached interest, which he would present to her in answer to her most blood-curdling inventions. (Ch. 11)

Hence, Jem learns to behave like a gentleman through always treating others with respect, just as Atticus does.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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