Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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Describe Jem from To Kill a Mockingbird and explain, based on his behavior, whether or not he has the following qualities: laziness, cruelty, determination. 

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Jem is the son of Atticus Finch, who is the novel's most morally upright character. Atticus has raised Jem to be a tolerant, courageous young man with integrity. Jem's character does not exhibit laziness throughout the novel. There are several scenes that depict Jem confronting situations head-on and finishing tasks that were given to him. When Jem is told that he needs to read to Mrs. Dubose each day for an hour after school, including Saturdays, Jem follows through with the task. He even reads to Mrs. Dubose for a longer period of time than he was initially told. When Scout crashes into the Radley's house, it is Jem who runs into the yard and grabs the tire. Jem is continually telling Scout about what he learned in school. This tells the reader that Jem pays attention in school and gives effort. Atticus has taught Jem the importance of having a good work ethic, and Jem displays this effort throughout the novel.

There are times throughout the novel when Jem displays cruelty towards his younger sister, Scout. Jem can be dismissive of Scout sometimes and not consider her feelings when he excludes her from certain games during the summer. He chastises his sister by saying she acts like a "girl," and he has a tendency to boss her around. Despite his minor character flaws, Jem is an overall caring individual. He encourages Scout throughout the novel and offers emotional support in times of need. On the playground, he tells Scout things will eventually get better during her first day of school. Jem even stops Scout from harming Walter Cunningham Jr. when she attempts to beat him up. He shows concern for Scout's health when she eats the random chewing gum left in the knothole. In Chapter 25, Scout begins to poke a roly-poly bug, when Jem tells her quit because it is not bothering her. This moment conveys Jem's sensitive side and depicts his compassion towards innocent beings. Later on in the novel, Jem volunteers to walk Scout to the Haloween festival, and even cheers Scout up after her dismal performance at the pageant.

There are several scenes that depict Jem as a determined individual. At the beginning of the novel, Jem persistently attempts to make contact and view Boo Radley. First, Jem tries to leave a note in Boo's window but fails. Then, he conducts a nighttime raid on the Radley home to peek into the window. When Atticus warns the children not to play games that put their "neighbors' lives on display," Jem changes the names of the characters to continue playing. In Chapter 8, Jem is so determined to build a snowman, he uses dirt and snow from Maudie's yard to create one. Jem is also obsessed with the idea of starting on the football team, and Scout mentions how he is continually eating and drinking milk to gain weight to earn a spot on the roster. Jem has inherited his father's determination throughout the novel, and it is evident in numerous scenes.

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