What is Scout's assessment of Jem's changed behavior after he won't let her kill the roly-poly in To Kill a Mockingbird?  

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

When Jem tells Scout to leave the roly-poly alone and not kill it, she thinks he has "gone soft" and become silly like a girl about things.

In Chapter 25 of To Kill a MockingbirdHarper Lee utilizes this seemingly insignificant incident of Scout's thoughtless toying with a species of woodlice known as a roly-polies, or doodle bugs, in order to expose Jem's growing sense of the world outside himself. While Scout only thinks of her own enjoyment in squashing this oval-shaped crustacean that feeds on decaying matter, Jem perceives her act as one of gratuitous cruelty that deprives this little creature of its life. 

Clearly, Jem's experience of being in the courtroom and witnessing the unjust conviction of Tom Robinson, and later his death, has a profound impact upon him. Having become sensitized to cruelty, he now wishes none done to any living creature. Interestingly, this episode with Scout and Jem precedes the report by Scout of Mr. Underwood's editorial, in which he decries the senseless death of Tom Robinson that was as thoughtlessly cruel as the crushing of some lower form of life:

He likened Tom's death to the senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters and children.

When Scout ponders what Mr. Underwood has written, she realizes that Tom was convicted, not by the law, but in the "secret courts of men's minds." This unfair death of Robinson is not unlike, although on a much smaller scale, Scout's intention of crushing the roly-poly.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The answer to this can be found in Chapter 25.

The brief answer to this is that Scout says that Jem is becoming more like a girl. Jem has said this about Scout at times in the book, but now she is saying it about him.

I assume that what is going on with Jem is that he is feeling bad about what has happened to Tom Robinson.  He feels that Tom got killed even though he never hurt anyone.  That is why Jem tells Scout to leave the bug alone.  He tells her the bug never bothered her and so she shouldn't kill it.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial