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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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What are some important things Scout says in chapters 17 through 21 of To Kill a Mockingbird?

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In Chapters 17 through 21 of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout the adult narrator says far more in her narrative descriptions that is revealing. However, Scout the young character says a few things that reveal her young age and just how much she is still being influenced by society around her.

One thing she says that reveals just how young she still is concerns her response to Jem ordering her to leave the courtroom. Reverend Sykes had suggested to Jem he take Scout home since the witnesses' testimonies contain details that a young girl should not yet know about. Jem's response to the reverend's suggestion is to order Scout to go home. Scout shows her youthfulness when she replies, "You gotta make me first" (Ch. 17). She further displays her youthfulness by insisting she understands every word the witnesses are saying. Scout's youthfulness is an integral part of her characterization because it helps us see the things she still has to learn and we observe her progress as she matures.

As a result of her very young age, Scout is still being influenced by society, especially by other children at school, rather than thinking for herself. Scout reveals the ways in which society is still influencing her when she takes Dill outside of the courthouse because he has broken out into sobs during Tom Robinson's cross-examination by the prosecuting attorney Mr. Gilmer. Scout asks why Dill is crying, and Dill explains that the antagonistic way Mr. Gilmer was talking to Robinson made Dill "sick, plain sick" (Ch. 19). However, in reply, Scout makes the following surprisingly racist comment:

Well, Dill, after all he's just a Negro. (Ch. 19)

Scout's comment is especially surprising considering how her father is trying to teach her to avoid racial prejudices by learning to see things from others' perspectives. More importantly, her racist remark shows just how much she is being influenced by the society around her, such as by the other children at school, not just by her father, and her influence is due to the fact that she is still too young to be able to think with a mind of her own. Regardless of her surprisingly racist remark in the middle of the book, if we juxtapose her remark with comments she makes by the end of the book, we see just how much she has grown as a character throughout the book. By the end of the book, she is finally able to see things from others' perspectives.

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