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Miller's To Kill a Mockingbird
Pages and Files
Alabama in the 1930's
Harper Lee biography
Jim Crow Laws
Scout's Lessons Learned
Jeremy Atticus Finch (Jem) is the oldest child of Atticus Finch and four years older than his sister, Scout. His “left arm is shorter than his right” and is permanently bent due to an injury to his elbow he sustained when he was nearly thirteen (1). Jem is ten years old when Scout’s story begins with Dill visiting Maycomb for the first time. He is “big enough to fit” his name, yet is young enough that he is always eager to please his father. Jem even acknowledges his youth when he tells Scout, “Atticus ain’t ever whipped me since I can remember. I wanta keep it that way” (56).
Jem is a very interesting character because he is a mix of personality traits ranging from inquisitive and imaginative to courageous and determined to chauvinistic yet protective of his sister. He is an imaginative and descriptive storyteller, as revealed when he spins the story to Dill and Scout of how “Mr. Radley kept [Boo] chained to the bed most of the time” and then continues on to describe in vivid details Boo’s physical features and characteristics (11). He tells Dill and Scout that Boo is “about six-and-a-half feet tall, judging by his tracks; he dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch, that’s why his hands were bloodstained” and that he has a “long jagged scar that ran across his face; what teeth he had were yellow and rotten; his eyes popped, and he drooled most of the time” (13). When lacking accurate information, Jem creates his own like when he tells Scout that Miss Caroline uses the “Dewey Decimal System” to teach the first grade to read and write (19). He is especially creative when describing “Hot Steams” as ghostly apparitions that “go around at night suckin’ people’s breath” and if you walk through one, you will die shortly thereafter (37). Jem also prides himself in his knowledge of history when he tells how the Indians made “polished pennies” that had magical properties and brought good luck (35) or when he informs Scout of how Egyptians walked and were famous for inventing “toilet paper and perpetual embalming” (59).
Like his father, Jem is determined, innovative, and courageous. Scout gives her brother a compliment when she describes Jem’s tenacity by stating that he was “not one to dwell on past defeats” (51). Jem is relentless in his efforts to gain information on Boo Radley, even though Atticus tells him “to mind his own business and let the Radley’s mind theirs…” (11). He is very innovative when he constructs a ‘snowman’ of dirt, branches, and a little bit of snow. Even Atticus marvels at Jem’s resourcefulness by stating, “I’ll never worry about what’ll become of you, son, you’ll always have an idea” (67). Jem’s qualities of leadership and reputation as a “born hero” are demonstrated when he holds the bottom wire so that Dill and Scout can escape from the Radley yard even though his actions may put him in danger (54).
Jem also displays negative personal traits such as chauvinism and being embarrassed by his younger sister, and he can be moody at times. He is a chauvinistic big brother who makes sexists comments towards Scout to make her angry or to goad her. He gets her to do things such as retrieving the tire in the Radley yard by telling her “sometimes you act so much like a girl it’s mortifyin’” (38) or by saying that she is just “being a girl” or “getting’ more like a girl every day” when Scout is reluctant to join him in his adventures (51-52). Jem is sometimes embarrassed of his younger sister and insists that she is “not to bother him” during school hours (16). Even though Jem acts this way towards his sister, he is also very protective of Scout. For example, he orders her to spit out the gum she found in the tree by the Radley house, for he is worried that it might be poisoned (33). As Scout notes, Jem can also be difficult to deal with or to understand, for he could be “moody and silent for a week” and not speak to her for long periods of time (57).
Jem Finch is a young man on the verge of puberty who is that curious blend of intelligence, imagination, courage and southern traditions of chivalry. He is the most complicated and diverse character in the novel.
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