To Kill a Mockingbird
Atticus Finch sets a standard of morality that no other character in the
book comes close to matching. Atticus is a studious man whose behavior
is governed by reason. Once he decides that a given course of action is
right, he perseveres regardless of threats or criticisms.
But Atticus is not a crusader. He does not go looking for causes to
champion. The Tom Robinson case was not one he volunteered to handle-
the judge assigned him the case because he felt Atticus would do his
best to win. Atticus' desire to avoid conflict when possible is another
quality that the author obviously wants us to admire. Readers may have
differing opinions about this quality.
NOTE: You may have noticed that some characters' names in this
story have hidden meanings. For example, Scout is a seeker, scouting
out new areas of experience. Atticus' name is a reference to the district
(Attica) of ancient Greece in which Athens was located. In some ways
Atticus' rational approach to life is similar to that of ancient philosophers.
You might look up the views of the Stoics; their philosophy has a certain
resemblance to Atticus' type of southern gentleman.
Scout's older brother Jeremy, or Jem, Finch changes considerably over
the course of the novel. At first you see him as Scout's playmate and
equal. Once the children start school, however, Jem becomes more aware
of the difference in age between himself and his sister. He doesn't want
her to embarrass him in front of his fifth-grade friends. And later he
and Dill develop a friendship from which Scout is partly excluded because
she is a girl. In this part of the story you see Jem as the wiser older
brother. He is the first to figure out that Boo Radley has been trying
to communicate with them, and he does his best to explain unfamiliar words
to Scout, even though he often gets their meanings wrong.
Jem is also the more thoughtful and introverted of the Finch children.
Unlike Scout, who is a fighter by temperament, Jem seems determined
to obey his father's request to avoid fighting. He lets his anger build
inside, until one day in a fit of temper he destroys Mrs. Dubose's garden.
Later, at the time of the trial, Jem's optimistic view of human nature
becomes apparent. He is probably the only person in town who really
believes that justice will be done and Tom Robinson found innocent.
When this does not happen, his disillusionment is so great that for
a time he can't stand even to talk about the incident.
By the end of the story Jem is almost grownup. On the surface, he
seems quicker than Scout to put the trial behind, but inwardly, he has
been more disturbed than Scout by the events of the trial. Some readers
think that Jem's broken arm at the end of the story is a sign that he
will be wounded forever by what he has observed. Scout, on the other
hand, has been protected from harm by the hard shell of her silly ham
costume- a symbol, perhaps, of the sense of humor that insulates her
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