“To Kill a Mockingbird” Courage: Jem’s Journey Lessons

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Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is about the life of a brother, Jem, and sister, Scout, who grow up during a time of racial inequality. Jem is what most would call a typical young boy growing up in a small town in Alabama, being interested in sports, guns, and being tough. Through Jem’s voice and characterization, Lee reveals how an impressionable boy can grow into a mature, respectful young man.

Jem and Mrs. Dubose: An Unforgettable Encounter

While Jem and Scout face many conflicts throughout the book, Jem’s encounter with Mrs.

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Dubose is one of the most notable scenes in the book. Lee makes Mrs. Dubose look like a mean person, describing her as so “vicious” that Jem and Scout hate walking by her front porch in fear of “being raked by her wrathful gaze, subjected to ruthless interrogation” and name-calling. Jem and Scout got used to hearing insults due to their father, Atticus Finch, defending a black man in court in a predominantly racist town, but Mrs. Dubose is one of the few adults that talked down to the children. In fact, Dubose says something so terribly offensive to Jem that he falls into a blind rage and retaliates by cutting up Mrs. Dubose’s camellia bushes.

The Consequences of Hate and the Path to Understanding

Jem’s internal conflict between obeying his father’s wishes bursts through in his attack on the flowers, which represent Mrs. Dubose. Out of what was supposed to be a good intention of sticking up for Atticus, he does something destructive and means. Harper Lee creates this moment in the book to show how hate can easily create more hate; she uses Jem’s father and even Mrs. Dubose to illustrate how finding the good in others can lead to a positive end. Jem’s punishment is pretty odd and causes the reader to question why Mrs. Dubose would actually want Jem to come to visit her. While it seemed ironic, Lee soon revealed that Mrs. Dubose was not as vicious as we thought.

Discovering the Layers of Courage

She requests that Jem read to her, and he does every day for an entire month, plus an added week. The reader sees Dubose for what she really is: frail, sickly, and strict. Jem continues to hate her because she continues to talk down to him; however, after she dies, Atticus explains that she was a morphine addict and that her hate and ugliness were often caused by her overcoming withdrawals. Jem never knew this, and his sudden insight overwhelmed him. What Jem had seen on the surface as bigotry and racism was just a thin layer of paint covering what Atticus considers more important, courage. Jem learned that real courage is not a man with a gun in his hand; “it’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway, and you see it through no matter what.”

Conclusion: A Lesson in Empathy and Growth

Harper Lee created this brief moment in the book to show that coming of age is not always an external force, and she used the most unlikely character to portray what is good in this world. Jem learns that no matter how ugly, how nasty, how horrible a person someone might appear to be, we never know what they could be facing, and we should always give people around us respect, no matter how hard it may be. This is one of the hardest lessons a young boy can learn, but Jem is able to use this experience to help him through the rest of the internal and external battles he experiences in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Works Cited

  1. Lee, H. (1960). To Kill a Mockingbird. J.B. Lippincott & Co.
  2. Shields, C. J. (2006). Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee. Henry Holt and Co.
  3. Shields, C. J. (2006). Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee. Henry Holt and Co.
  4. Johnson, C. D. (1994). Understanding To Kill a Mockingbird: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historic Documents. Greenwood Publishing Group.
  5. Meyers, M. (2008). Harper Lee: Life and Works. Chelsea House Publishers.
  6. Bloom, H. (Ed.). (2010). Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Bloom’s Literary Criticism.
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"To Kill a Mockingbird" Courage: Jem's Journey Lessons. (2023, Jun 18). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/to-kill-a-mockingbird-courage-jems-journey-lessons/