Example Of The Moral Development Of Scout And Jem In How To Kill A Mockingbird Research Paper
Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird has both received critical acclaim has well as critical interest. Such criticism focuses on the “repetitive insistence on the themes of racism, sexism, and the ‘coming of age’ typology of the novel” (Murray 75). Nonetheless, the renewal of such critical interest underscores its pedagogical currency for high school and college level courses. The story focuses on the protagonist Scout, an intelligent yet confident young tomboy who transforms from an innocent child into a compassionate and mature person as a result of several events that force her to question her moral compass. Raised by her father Atticus, a lawyer, and Calpurnia, their black housemaid, during the mid 1920s, an epoch defined by intense racial antagonism and prejudices against subaltern groups, especially African Americans, Scout grows up in a household that touts equality and social justice despite living in the American South in Maycomb where white hegemony was paramount and proper comportment was paramount. Jem, an adolescent boy, has grown disillusioned as a result of his experiences with social injustice, rendering him confused and traumatized. Indeed, both their empirical knowledge about the state of racism in the United States combined with their upbringing by a progressive father who taught them to think, question authority, and arrive at her own personal conclusions, Scout and Jem evolve from innocent children into humane people who transgress the salient beliefs that African Americans were sub-human. Their relationships with others deemed peripheral and experiences with racism, despite the fact that their father sought to protect her from racism and hate by insulating her from the outside world, thus trigger this personal development.
Despite the abolition of slavery, racism persisted well into the twentieth century as a result of the rise of Jim Crow laws as dramatized by To Kill a Mockingbird, which both Jem and Scout are changed by. As mentioned before, their father wanted to shield them from the evil in the world by insulating from the ubiquitous racism that tore social bonds in the South asunder on a quotidian basis. In 1896, the Plessey v. Ferguson ruling institutionalized Jim Crow laws in the South, which established a precedent for segregation in public places and stripped blacks of their rights to free speech and due process (Jacobson 240). The reverend articulates this sentiment when he tells Jem that "I ain't ever seen any jury decide in favor of a colored man over a white man" (Lee 149). During this time period, whites often exploited African Americans, and they did not forge personal relationships with them. The lynching of African Americans also became commonplace after the Civil War, which the Cunningham's failed attempts to kill Tom demonstrate (Lee 53). Lynchings became large public spectacles in which the mutilated bodies of African Americans were hung. Police rarely arrested the perpetrators because the underlying belief that the victims of the lynchings were less than human sustained and sanctioned the act. Mr. Raymond expresses this sentiment when he discusses the "hell white people give colored folks, without even stopping to think that they're people too" (143). Jem was profoundly impacted as an adolescent boy by the trial of Tom Robinson as a result of the persistence of social injustice. Although slavery was outlawed, racism persisted, which reflects how deeply entrenched bigotry remained in the American consciousness.
Scout and Jem’s relationships with other characters fueled their development into a moral and mature people who articulated their sympathy towards those who were racially oppressed. Indeed, Atticus profoundly influenced their racial thinking and outlook of the world, serving as a wonderful role model, as he always taught them to think for herself prior to formulating opinions about other people. Cynical and disillusioned by the injustice he perceived all around him, Jem turned to Atticus for solace. Indeed, Atticus helped Jem embrace a much more positive and happy outlook of the world. His interactions with Boo Radley who, despite being ridiculed as a pariah, saved Jem and Scout, thereby showing Jem that there is good in every person regardless of their social position and race. Scout’s relationship with Boo Radley, her mysterious neighbor, also contributes to her moral development, as he has been ostracized by society because he has been destroyed by the evils of racism that he witnessed in Maycomb. Many members of the community articulated their suspicions and aversion towards Boo Radley, rendering him a bad and nefarious person. However, Boo saves the lives of both Jem and Scout when Bob Ewell attacks them to avenge Atticus for defending an African American, prompting Scout not to act on preconceived notions as a result of ignorance (Lee 49). In addition, Scout’s relationship with Calpurnia further edifies Scout’s view of and attitudes towards racism that is so ubiquitous in her life. Calpurnia takes Scout and Jem to a local black church for them to experience. At church, and African American woman approaches Jem and Scout and decries their presence, declaring that they as white children are not welcome in an all-black institution. However, Calpurnia comes to their defense, aggressively scolding the woman (109). Indeed, racial prejudices unequivocally were possessed by all people regardless of their skin color. Ultimately, her relationship with Calpurnia teaches Scout and Jem that African Americans are indeed kind and compassionate people who deserve to be treated as such. Racial discrimination and racially motivated violence is inherently wrong and should be eschewed and prevented.
Jacobson, Matthew Frye. Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants And the Alchemy of Race. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998. Print.
Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1960. Print.
Murray, Jennifer. “More Than One Way to (Mis)Read a ‘Mockingbird.’” The Southern Literary Journal, 43.1(2010): 75-91. Print.
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