What statement is Harper Lee making by having Jem and Scout sit in the balcony during the trial?

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teachsuccess | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Hello! When Scout and Jem can't find a seat in the courtroom, their frustration turns to joy when Reverend Sykes offers them a seat in the Colored balcony. As the Reverend gently steers them through the Colored section, four African-Americans give up their seats for Scout, Jem, Dill, and Reverend Sykes.

Harper Lee knows that no Caucasian person would be caught dead sitting in the Colored section. By having Scout and Jem sit in the balcony, she reinforces the fact that the era of segregation failed to compel everyone to participate in institutional racism. Reverend Sykes shows great courage in offering seats to the children. Despite this, some contend that any African-American would have to offer up their seats to a Caucasian in this era, so the four African-Americans were not doing anything out of the ordinary. However, the seats they gave up were in the Colored section. As Jem tells us

...around here once you have one drop of Negro blood, that makes you all black.

So, does this mean that Scout and Jem are both figuratively 'tainted' children for sitting in the Colored Section? Jem tells us that his Uncle Jack Finch cannot unequivocally confirm that the family does not have any African-American blood. As Scout tells us, 'it's too long ago to matter.' Through this innocent conversation, Harper Lee tells us that racism doesn't make any sense when one takes into account the possibilities of one's ancestry.

Despite Scout and Jem's naivety, they are also Atticus' children. Their father is a Caucasian man defending an African-American man, and he does so amidst great disapproval from his own community. Harper Lee shows us that the values both Scout and Jem have been raised with compels them to treat everyone with equal respect and courtesy. Their comfortable mingling with Reverend Sykes in the Colored Balcony is testament to the influence one good father can have on his family and on his society.

Thanks for the question.

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