In Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, what is the social responsibility of Scout and Jem? Are they socially responsible?For instance Atticus is being socially responsible as a lawyer by defending...

In Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, what is the social responsibility of Scout and Jem? Are they socially responsible?

For instance Atticus is being socially responsible as a lawyer by defending Tom and trying to bring justice to him.

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, I don't know that Jem and Scout have what we would call social responsibility, as they are children. However, between Atticus and Calpurnia, they do have an acute sense of what is right and wrong, and how they are expected to act. When they are unable to meet the expectations of their dad or Calpurnia, they are held accountable, and Atticus hopes that it is done in such a way that they learn something in the process.

For example, when Mrs. Dubose makes an especially caustic remark about Atticus, Jem—who is usually able to handle himself—loses control and cuts off the top of everyone of Mrs. Dubose's camellias. Jem is forced to apologize to her (though he is not sorry) and clean up the lawn.

"There was no point in saying you were sorry if you aren't," said Atticus. "Jem, she's old and ill. You can't hold her responsible for what she says and does. Of course, I'd rather she'd have said it to me than to either of you, but we can't always have our 'druthers."

Because of Jem's actions, Mrs. Dubose wants Jem to read to her, and Atticus supports this request whole-heartedly. Jem cannot replace the flowers, but he can help Mrs. Dubose fill the hours as she fights withdrawal from a drug addiction to morphine—to succumb to her illness in pain, but "clean," though Jem is not aware of it until after she has passed. We can tell that he has a sense of social responsibility when she sends him a flower when she dies. We can infer that he feels guilty and perhaps believes that he has still not atoned for what he did.

...old hell devil!...why can't she leave me alone?

Atticus comforts him:

I think that was her way of telling you—everything's all right.

Atticus tells Jem that Mrs. Dubose was a true lady. He explains that besides having expectations of his son, he also wanted Jem to learn something significant while "paying his dues."

"A lady?" Jem raised his head. His face was scarlet. "After all those things she said about you, a lady?"

"She was. She had her own views about things...I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand."

There are also social expectations for Scout. When Aunt Alexandra comes to stay, Scout is expected to wear a dress, and serve and visit Aunt Alexandra's visitors who come to tea. The expectations that Scout is required to meet can be seen when Tom Robinson is shot trying to escape. The news arrives while Aunt Alexandra is entertaining. Aunt Alexandra, Miss Maudie and Scout are present when Atticus brings home the news. All of the women are shaken, but Miss Maudie pulls them together to go back out to serve their guests without letting anyone know something tragic has occurred.

Aunt Alexandra looked across the room at me and smiled. She looked at the tray of cookies on the table and nodded at them. I carefully picked up the tray and watched myself walk to Miss Merriweather. With my best company manners, I asked her if she would have some.

After all, if Aunty could be a lady at a time like this, so could I.

The children understand the concept of assuming social responsibility, though it is at times hard to do so. The social expectations of the children may be casually observed in the behavior of neighbors, such as Miss Maudie, but the social expectations that are most meaningful are those of Atticus and Calpurnia.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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