Jeremy Atticus Finch is the brother of Scout, the main character of To Kill A Mockingbird. Although not the spotlight of the story, Jem’s development as a person is “intimately related to the theme and structure of the novel” (Schuster 342). He grows from a child with prejudice against what he does not know to a young man with an innate sense of justice.
As the siblings’ newfound friend Dill enters the story, he gives both Jem and Scout the chance to be children during the very adult situations encircling Tom Robinson’s trial. Their summer games about Boo show that even pure, young children let “fear and lack of knowledge” form a type of prejudice against an innocent man (Schuster 342). Jem uses the gossip spread by people, who barely know the true story about Boo, to form an opinion about a man he has never even met or seen. This childish fear of the unknown is simply the beginning of racism, merely a stepping stone to becoming a shortsighted adult.
The naïveté of Jem’s childhood stayed with him for a short while. When his neighbor, Mrs. Dubose, screeches one insult too many about his father Atticus, Jem loses his head like a child, but he releases his anger in a very adult and vengeful way by destroying her camellia bushes. Scared, angry, and not a bit sorry, Jem is forced to read to her for a month and a week. Although Jem had barely known her before, he quickly realizes that there is something wrong with Mrs. Dubose. Her morphine addiction has a visible effect, and it deepens Jem’s fear of her while allowing him to see part of the reason she is so crude. A day after her death, Jem receives a flower she had given to him to thank him. Nevertheless, he still could not believe that people can be “neither saints nor devils, neither completely ignorant or craven or foolish, nor completely wise or wholly courageous” (Ford 341). Jeremy is still young, but he has the bud of understanding that it will take to fully grasp that such a vile woman could have any redeeming qualities about her, to comprehend that anyone can have both good and bad in her soul.
Jem grows up quite a bit in those sorrowful months, and he begins to understand that all will not be the same in adulthood as it was during his childhood. When Dill runs away from his parents, Jem tells Atticus without a second thought about breaking the “code” of his youth. Unlike the adults on Tom Robinson’s jury, Jeremy knew when to stand by what was right, no matter what the cost among his peers. Rationalizing his actions in a logical way that would make Atticus proud and telling Dill that his parents should know where he is shows that Jem is not the child he once was and that he has a more honorable future ahead of him than most adults. Jem does not allow childish rules to cloud what he knows is the responsible thing to do.
Almost immediately after this occurrence, a lynch mob tries to kill Tom Robinson with only Atticus in their way. Jem, followed by Scout and Dill, arrives at the jail, where Atticus nearly begs Jem to take his sister and friend home. Jeremy says no politely, adding “Sir.” Jem is unwilling to leave his father in a place where he knows danger to be, and voluntarily puts himself in danger to try to protect him. He succeeds when Scout shames the mob into leaving, and Jem takes Scout and Dill home when he realizes that his presence is no longer necessary. As an adult would, he knows that there is a time and place for everything, and follows Atticus’ order as soon as it is prudent. Jem refuses to listen to Atticus, not with the contempt of a stubborn child but with the reasoning of an adult.
From being almost as prejudiced as the adults of Maycomb County to being nearly as just and wise as Atticus, Jeremy Finch grew over the course of To Kill a Mockingbird. He learned that there are “ways of looking at things [that] are perhaps better than the traditional ones” (Erisman 244). Jem feels the injustice of the point of view of the townspeople towards African Americans, and he knows that what he did to Boo is the same thing: not bothering to learn the facts but forming an opinion anyway. He feels in his heart the horribly twisted fate of Tom Robinson and hates that such a thing can happen, but he knows why those things happen. But, Jeremy’s “prejudices of all kinds are gone, banished by security and knowledge” (Schuster 342). He now knows how to be a responsible, fair, and wise adult with a clear vision of what should and should not be done.
Schuster, Edgar H.. “(Nelle) Harper Lee 1926-,” ContemporaryLiteraryCriticism: ExcerptsfromCriticismoftheWorksofToday’sNovelists, Poets, Playwrights, andOtherCreativeWriters. ed., Dedria Bryfonski, Gale Literary Criticism Series, 1, Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1980, XII, 341-342.
Ford, Nick A.. CLC. XII.
Erisman, Fred. CLC. LX.