Scout and Jem as Character Foils: Compare and contrast the character traits of Scout and Jem Finch. Scout, who has a quick temper and poor self-control, represents the impulsivity, naiveté, and simplicity of childhood. Jem, who is more even-keeled and demonstrates better self-control, represents the sensibility, experience, and complexity of the adult world into which they must transition.
- For discussion: Follow Scout’s and Jem’s predominant character traits throughout the novel, especially in relation to the context of the plot. How does each character respond to feelings of anger and frustration? What about injustice or unfairness?
- For discussion: Both Scout and Jem are unhappy when the jury convicts Tom Robinson of raping Mayella Ewell. However, Jem is especially distraught. Why does each character react so differently? Is Jem’s reaction more mature than Scout’s? Why or why not?
Scout’s Life Lessons: To Kill a Mockingbird is a type of bildungsroman, a “coming-of-age” story that focuses on a protagonist’s moral and psychological development from childhood to adulthood. While the novel does not follow Scout into literal adulthood, it emphasizes crucial moments that shape who Scout will become as an adult—a person we already know because she is the narrator.
- For discussion: How does Scout’s character change from the beginning of the novel, when she plays the “Boo Radley game” with Jem and Dill, to the end of the novel, when she walks Boo Radley home after he saves her and Jem from Bob Ewell? In what ways does her character stay the same? What are some of the most important lessons that Scout learns?
- For discussion: Throughout most of the novel, Scout—who is six years old—is too young to understand what is happening around her. As a result, she is often blunt, politically incorrect, or misinterprets the events unfolding around her. However, she narrates her childhood to us as an adult, after having achieved maturity and better understanding. What further evidence can you find of the changes Scout undergoes from childhood to adulthood through the way Scout narrates her story to us? Which traits change and which traits stay the same?
The Existence of Good and Evil as a Theme: To Kill a Mockingbird regularly questions the extent to which people are good or evil by exploring Scout’s and Jem’s journey from childhood innocence to adult experience. Much of the children’s transition to an adult perspective involves being confronted by the realization that evil exists—specifically, the evil of racism and injustice in their own community. Ultimately, the novel asks whether the goodness of innocence can prevail over the evilness of injustice.
- For discussion: Jem’s reaction to Tom Robinson’s wrongful conviction is physical as well as emotional—so much so that, as the judge polls the jury, each statement of “guilty” causes his shoulders to jerk as though he is being stabbed. Jem seems to believe that his community is completely evil because they have committed a grave injustice against Tom and his family. However, Scout is not as negatively affected, as if she understands that people are neither totally good nor totally evil. What do Jem’s and Scout’s different reactions suggest about how a person should interpret the presence of evil?
- For discussion: What does Tom Robinson’s unethical conviction reveal about the novel’s ultimate stance on humanity’s capacity for goodness? Do you think Maycomb’s white community is totally evil? Why or why not? Be sure to include examples from the novel when formulating your answer.
The Mockingbird as a Symbol of Innocence: In To Kill a Mockingbird, songbirds— especially mockingbirds—figure prominently as symbols of innocence. To Kill a Mockingbird is therefore to kill innocence. Many characters are concerned with or compared to songbirds throughout the novel, especially in relation to discussions of injustice and evil.
- For discussion: Which characters are figurative...
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