Why does Jem not want anything to do with Scout at school  in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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In To Kill a Mockingbird, Jem does not want to interact with his younger sister Scout when they are at school. He even tells her this on the first day when they walk to school together. He tells her that she is “not to bother him” at school, which includes not approaching “him with requests to enact a chapter of Tarzan and the Ant Men” or other requests.

Even though Scout and Jem spend much of their time together, it is important to keep in mind that Jem is four years older than Scout. This means that he does not want to seem babyish in front of classmates his age by playing with her at school. In other words, like many (or probably most) older siblings, Jem does not want Scout to embarrass him in front of his peers. In fact, he tells her that she is not to “embarrass him with references to his private life…”

It is clear that Jem loves Scout and is also extremely proud of her. When the two Finch children first meet Dill, Jem brags that Scout has been able to read since an early age even before school, saying, “Scout yonder’s been readin‘ ever since she was born, and she ain’t even started to school yet.”

However, because Jem is probably concerned about appearing babyish in the eyes of his classmates, he does not want her to “tag along behind him at recess and noon.” He wants Scout to stay with other children her age when they are at school, or to “stick with the first grade,” while him stayed with children his age.

Moreover, it is not just the difference in their ages that makes Jem feel awkward about spending time with Scout in school. Scout is a tomboy who does not always understand social situations. We see this in many scenes in the book. Her lack of social awareness impacts her interaction with other children in school. For instance, when Scout attacks Walter Cunningham in the schoolyard, Jem comes to his defense. He tells Walter, “Scout here, she’s crazy—she won’t fight you any more,” and invites the boy to join them at their home for lunch.

Nevertheless, Jem loves Scout. He assures her that regardless of the new rules that govern their relationship when they are in school, they can still play together at home “but …school’s different.”

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In chapter 2 of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, the summer ends and Scout is excited to go to school for the first time. This puts her age at about 6. Jem is in fifth grade, which means he is 9 or 10 years old. Scout is very observant, as one finds out many times over, and she mentions that she thinks her father probably paid Jem to show her to her classroom on the first day. On the way to school on that first day, Jem tells his little sister what his boundaries are for her to mind. She remembers the rules as follows:

Jem was careful to explain that during school hours I was not to bother him, I was not to approach him with requests to enact a chapter of Tarzan and the Ant Men, to embarrass him with references to his private life, or tag along behind him at recess and noon. I was to stick with the first grade and he would stick with the fifth. In short, I was to leave him alone (16).

As shown above, Jem doesn't hold back when telling his sister to stay out of his way at school. This shows that Jem is a normal older brother who will play with his sister at home because she might be the only one around most of the time. At school, though, he has a reputation to protect. It's interesting that he is very specific with his boundaries. For instance, he specifically doesn't want Scout to mention in public that he likes to play Tarzan. Nor does he want her following after him on the playground. Those are times when he is with his friends and needs to be one of the boys, not a big brother concerned about a little sister who might ruin his status.

Although Jem does not want to be followed around by his little sister and does not want to worry about her when he is with his friends, it does not mean that he has no love for her. In fact, Jem shows quite often that he does love Scout by protecting her in many different instances in the book. It is fun to see that big brothers have not changed since the 1930s, and their dynamic makes the characters more relatable.

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Jem and Scout have the typical older brother-younger sister relationship. Jem is a little more serious about things than Scout is. Scout is quick tempered and quick to speak whatever is on her mind. Jem on the other hand is more reserved. Jem doesn't want to have anything to do with Scout at school because he sees her as the aggravating little sister. Jem thinks of himself as the big man at the school because he is four years older than Scout.

Jem is a little embarrassed by the way Scout reacts to people. Scout will fight anyone at anytime. Jem doesn't think she should act this way. We can see that Jem has a lot of Atticus in him. Jem and Scout are certainly close, though. During the summers, the two of them, plus Dill, have the best times together. They look out for each other. They are each other's confidants. Jem and Scout have no idea just how strong their bond is. They can't even imagine what is waiting for them, and that they are going to have to rely on each other to make it through.

I love how Harper Lee made the relationship of Jem and Scout so real. She gets us invested in their lives and we want only good things for them. We can relate to how Jem feels, having a younger sibling who drives us crazy, yet we would do anything in the world for them.   

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Jem is slightly embarrassed by his younger sister, especially the pugilistic tendencies she demonstrates in the playground. As there is a four year age gap between the children it is natural that there is a distance between them. Jem is a little more aware of the social propriety that their father Atticus would like them to show, so he is more restrained in his behaviour, and he leaves the endless questioning of the injustices of their society to Scout.

There is a strong bond between the children despite their distance at school. Their endless summer games are together, with their curious neighbour, Dill. When Scout's life is in danger during the cowardly attack from Bob Ewell, Jem unhesitatingly comes to her aid. They are very much typical siblings.

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