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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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What decisions does Jem make in To Kill A Mockingbird?

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In terms of Jem’s decisions, there are many. So I would like to focus on a series of decisions that seem to reveal a sort of progression in the development of his character, particularly in his understanding and exercise of courage.

For instance, Jem decides to take on Dill’s...

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challenge to knock on Radley’s front door. Jem made this decision based on his ego more than anything else. He did not want to seem like a coward. This is not a wise decision but an immature foolish boy’s reaction to a dare.

Of course, this is followed up by increasingly bold inroads into breaking the Radley air of mystery and fearsomeness, leading to the staged playacting to the delivery of a note to Boo Radley himself. Nevertheless, it is still an effort, in Scout’s mind, to “contrast his own fearless heroism to (Scout’s) cowardice.”

The return to the Radley home in chapter 6 to recover his pants has more substantial grounds, seemingly based on Jem’s sense of self-preservation! He is at risk of being discovered by Atticus for his Radley ventures, even whilst his father has warned him against troubling the Radleys. He had no choice but to get his pants back or there would be hell to pay if their loss was discovered, or worse, if they were found to be in the possession of the Radleys! But perhaps Jem’s motivation is more than survival. Going back to the Radley compound is fraught with more danger than his father’s admonishment or even punishment. It could be a matter of honor. As Jem explains to Scout, he feels that being found out by Atticus would break a distinguished record of never having been “whipped” by his father, and he “wanta keep it that way.”

Jem’s clash with Mrs. Dubose is the turning point in his education about courage. It is through his encounters with her—from the violent destruction of her flowers through to his reading duties by her bedside—that he learns the true nature of courage, as expounded by Atticus as, “to see (things) through no matter what”, even “when you know you’re licked before you begin." That is Mrs. Dubose's courage: to know that imminent death is unavoidable, yet to fight tooth and nail against the effects of morphine to be clean of it and ultimately be free.

This courage is finally exercised when Jem decides to stay with his father through the threat of the mob at the jail. It is also displayed in his efforts to protect Scout in the face of a far physically stronger attacker on their way home from the school pageant, for which he suffered a permanent physical injury. What a fitting finale to a young boy’s journey of learning courage and making truly courageous decisions.

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1) In chapter 1, Jem has to decide whether he will accept Dill's challenge to knock on the Radley's front door. After hesitating for a few days, Jem finally decides to run up and touch the side of the Radley's house.

2) At the end of chapter 6, Jem makes the difficult decision to return to the Radley home and retrieve his pants, which he had left behind while he was escaping from the yard and Nathan Radley was shooting in the air.

3) In chapter 14, Jem decides to do the right thing by informing his father that Dill Harris ran away from home. Jem's decision to tell his father about Dill running away is significant and illustrates his maturity.

4) In chapter 15, Jem has an uneasy feeling and decides to follow his father, who is sitting outside of the Maycomb jailhouse reading the newspaper. When the Old Sarum bunch arrives and surrounds Atticus, Jem and the children come out of their hiding place. When Atticus tells Jem to go home, Jem makes the difficult decision to remain by his father's side, which demonstrates his courage and loyalty to Atticus.

5) In chapter 16, Jem decides to sneak into the courthouse and sit in the colored balcony to watch his father defend Tom Robinson.

6) In chapter 28, Jem decides to do his father a favor by walking Scout to the Maycomb Halloween festival.

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In chapter 15, Jem, Scout, and Dill unwittingly interrupt a confrontation outside Maycomb jail between their father and an angry group of men. Atticus is there to protect Tom Robinson from a lynch mob, and the children intervene just in time to diffuse the situation. Atticus tells Jem to go home and to take Scout and Dill with him. Jem, however, decides to refuse his father's instruction. He stands still, facing his father, and repeatedly shakes his head. He makes this decision to disobey his father because he senses that his father is in danger. He wants to stay to protect Atticus. If Jem had decided in this instance to obey his father, it's likely that Atticus may have been hurt by the mob.

In chapter 28, in the climax to the story, Bob Ewell attacks Jem and Scout. Jem's first impulse is to protect his sister. He instantly makes the decision to try and fight off the older and bigger Bob Ewell and manages to drag Scout away from harm. Jem, however, is pulled back, away from Scout, and in another scuffle with Bob Ewell, Jem's arm is broken and he is knocked unconscious.

Both of these decisions demonstrate how protective Jem is—both of his father and his sister. In these key moments, he decides to put himself in danger to try to protect them.

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