Jean Louise “Scout” Finch is the principal character and narrator of Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird . She is six years old when the novel begins and nine when it ends, although Lee’s story is told retrospectively by an adult Jean Louise Finch. As Lee did use...
Jean Louise “Scout” Finch is the principal character and narrator of Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird. She is six years old when the novel begins and nine when it ends, although Lee’s story is told retrospectively by an adult Jean Louise Finch. As Lee did use her main protagonist as narrator, direct characterizations of Scout had to be attributed to other characters, especially her older brother Jem and, most importantly, her father Atticus. An early example of such a characterization occurs in the opening passages of Chapter 3 when the “tomboy” Scout has tackled the desperately poor Walter Cunningham and is holding him on the ground. Jem intervenes in the one-sided scuffle by inviting the hapless Walter home for dinner and explaining that his sister is “crazy” and “won’t fight you anymore.” Jem’s characterization of his sister as “crazy” is not intended to be taken literally. Scout is free-spirited and strong-willed and has been raised under a strict code of conduct while being afforded enough liberty to learn life’s lessons through observation and inquiry. She is also, however, capable of resorting quickly to violence.
Another direct characterization of Scout occurs later in the same chapter. The Ewell family, the reader learns early in the novel, is the town’s main example of “trash.” Virulently racist and frequently drunk, Bob Ewell, the patriarch of the clan, lives off welfare, most of which is spent on liquor, and is the force driving the story’s most important theme, that of the pernicious influence on human dignity of systemic racism. As the Finch family discusses the Ewell family and its propensity for living outside the bounds of the law, as well as of simple human decency, Atticus comments to his inquisitive daughter,
“Let us leave it at this,” said Atticus dryly. “You, Miss Scout Finch, are of the common folk. You must obey the law.” He said that the Ewells were members of an exclusive society made up of Ewells.
These are but two examples of direct characterization of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. Maycomb, Alabama, Lee’s fictional town, which was inspired by her own upbringing in the Deep South, is viewed through the eyes of a precocious young child whose father is a font of wisdom and tolerance in a setting known for neither.