What are Jean Louise (Scout) Finch's character strengths and weaknesses?
Jean-Louise Finch is a precocious child who views the world from the bastion of her home and its psychological climate. Like many other young children Scout perceives the world not in nuances and variations but in clearly marked divisions.
When Scout first attends school, she arrives with a knowledge of the community that surpasses what a child her age would normally possess. She has learned things from listening to her father as he talks with clients and, perhaps, converses with their maid Calpurnia, who is practically a surrogate mother to Scout. When her new teacher, Miss Caroline Fisher, is unknowingly confronted with the impoverishment of Walter Cunningham and the disrespect of the dirty and lice-ridden Burris Ewell, Scout tries to explain the socio-economic situations of these two students. However, Miss Caroline interprets Scout's well-meaning explanations as impudent interruptions. She tells Scout to hold out her hand, and she says, "You're starting off on the wrong foot in every way, my dear." After giving Scout several slaps from the ruler on her hand, the teacher tells Scout to stand in the corner as, humiliated, she hears "a storm of laughter" from the other students.
These early incidents set the pattern for Scout as there is often a discrepancy between her perspectives and those of others. Because of this problem, Atticus advises her to try to "climb into the skin" of others and perceive things as they would. This is also a struggle that Scout has with her dogmatic Aunt Alexandra, who comes to stay with them before and during the trial of Tom Robinson. Scout even has this same struggle at times with trying to understand her brother Jem.
Scout also has trouble dealing with insults to her beloved father. When she hears derogatory remarks directed at Atticus from Mrs. Dubose, Cecil Jacobs, and cousin Francis, she always wants to retaliate. For those in her own age group, Scout prefers to retaliate with her fists, and she is often scolded and urged to use her head instead.
As she matures, Scout does learn to use her head. Although she kicks one of the men who come to threaten Atticus into handing over Tom Robinson at the jail, she effectively diffuses the situation by using one of Atticus's teachings on Mr. Walter Cunningham, who orders the men to depart. Later, during the trial of Tom Robinson, Scout's keen mind and powers of observation allow her to deduce a great deal from the testimony and actions of the witnesses. She also accurately analyzes the characters of the witnesses and the jury. For instance, when the jury returns after the trial is completed, Scout perspicaciously remarks,
I saw something only a lawyer's child could be expected to...watch for, and it was like watching Atticus walk into the street, raise a rifle to his shoulder and pull the trigger, but watching all the time knowing that the gun was empty. (Ch.21)
Certainly, Scout demonstrates maturity and strength of character at the tea that her aunt holds. Despite the rude innuendos about herself and the insidious remarks about her father, Scout carries a tray of refreshments to the hypocritical Mrs. Merriweather, thinking "...if Aunty could be a lady at a time like this, so could I."
Finally, after her life-threatening encounter with the disreputable and vengeful Bob Ewell, Scout realizes that it is Boo who has heroically saved her life. She walks Arthur (Boo) home and maturely regrets that for all he has done for the children, they have given him no gifts in return.
Jean-Louise "Scout" Finch is a dynamic character who comes of age in Harper Lee's narrative by learning to suppress her instinctive reactions and, instead, use reason to resolve conflicts.
Keeping in mind that Scout is just a little girl, one weakness that Atticus is working with as she develops is her tendency to solve problems with her fists; some of this likely comes from her desire to keep up with her older brother, Jem, who is her whole world. Atticus tells her at one point that she should "Try fighting with your head for a change. It's a good one, even if it does resist learning."
A strength of Scout's, undoubtedly attributed to her father, who is of utmost character and integrity, is her naturally inquisitive demeanor, particularly in cases of injustice or oppression. She and Jem are devastated the summer that Tom Robinson is found guilty; Jem struggles with it outwardly, whereas Scout appears to return to business as usual, but at the end of the novel, as she reminisces about the trial, she mentions the heartbreak she and Jem had felt over the outcome.