To Kill a Mockingbird is an iconic classic novel of American literature by Harper Lee published in 1960. Through the eyes of a little girl who goes by the nickname Scout, the author shows different social and economic problems a child might face growing up. She also raises an issue of complicated racial relationships of the American South in the 20th century. One of the main characters of this book is Scout’s brother Jeremy (Jem) Finch. In this article we will discuss his character and the role he played in the story.
The story takes place in Maycomb, Alabama. The main character of the novel is Jean Louise Finch (Scout) who is six years old. She lives with her father Atticus Finch, brother Jem and housekeeper Calpurnia.
Atticus Finch is a very busy single father who pursues his career as a lawyer and spends long days at his office. Meanwhile his children Scout and Jem spend their free time playing with each other, but their adventure-seeking characters cannot stay out of trouble. Along with their neighbors’ nephew Dill, they wonder around a house on their street where Boo Radley lives. Boo has a reputation of being a scary and dangerous guy. The children try to make him come out of his house, but he never does. Instead, he leaves them little presents in a knothole next to his house, trying to gain their trust and friendship.
Meanwhile, Atticus takes on a case defending an African-American man named Tom Robinson who supposedly raped and assaulted a white girl, Mayella Ewell. As a result of their father defending this man, Scout and Jem face a lot of humiliation, unfair judgement and racial comments. Instead of succumbing to the negative judgements, they honor their father’s work and respect him for helping an innocent man.
While defending Tom, Atticus verbally confronts and offends Bob Ewell, Mayella’s father, because Bob is a drunk who makes racial slurs and disrespects court procedures. Tom is found guilty of rape even though there lacks enough evidence to prove he had done it. He then dies during an escape attempt. Racism prevails in the South once again. Scout and Jem have yet another lesson to learn about society and the unfairness of life. Later, Bob Ewell tries to get back at Atticus for his disrespect by attacking his children, Jem and Scout. They end up getting saved by, none other than, Boo Radley. And the police decide not to press charges against Boo Radley — taking into consideration his mental state on account of self-defense.
Character Analysis of Jem Finch
We can describe Jem Finch as:
Like a lot of 10-year-old boys, Jem loves sports and wants to play football. Unfortunately, he does not get on the team and the coach tells him it is because he is too skinny. It does not discourage him and he continues to come to team practice sessions. Although he is not a player, the coach appoints him to be a water boy, which gives him an opportunity to be a part of the team, socialize with the players and gain experience being a part of a team sport. You can see that he is very eager to be on the team as he tries to gain weight by eating a lot and can then participate in tryouts and eventually make it onto the team.
Atticus Finch, the father, is a role model for Jem. Just like his father, he tries to be respectful to everyone regardless of their race, gender and social background. But, first of all, he shows respect for his father. In chapter 6, when the children go to Radley’s house once again, Jem gets caught in a fence wire, tries to flee because he is scared of Boo Radley and leaves his pants there. He realizes that not only he might get in trouble, but Atticus might as well. He respects his father so much that he overcomes his fear, goes back to the house and gets his trousers.
Throughout the book readers can see that Jem is a great older brother who comforts Scout when she has problems in school. He remembers himself starting school years ago and he knows what she is going through, so he shows her his empathy and full support.
As an older brother, Jem tries to teach Scout many things, but among them, he demonstrates his humor and he is easy-going about a great deal of different things. In chapter 3 Scout beats up Walter Cunningham, and Jem makes the following comment:
“Atticus is a gentleman, just like me!”(p. 238)
Throughout the story Jem tends to ask a lot of questions. Sometimes they are short questions that he asks Calpurnia about everything, like a lot of children do. Although there are times when he is curious about very important and difficult matters that he does not understand. For example, when he is pondering about why Boo Radley does not want to come out of his house and always stays in. He goes in a little monologue that demonstrates his thinking process and curiosity:
“That’s what I thought, too,” he said at last, “when I was your age. If there’s just one kind of folks, why can’t they get along with each other? If they’re all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other? Scout, I think I’m beginning to understand something. I think I’m beginning to understand why Boo Radley’s stayed shut up in the house all this time… it’s because he wants to stay inside.” (p. 578)
As many children are at his age, Jem is extremely naive. Tom Robinson’s trial is one thing that reluctantly helped him grow up in a flash. Before the case, he has a certain picture of Maycomb and its inhabitants. He thinks of them as righteous men who are just and judge people by their doings, not the color of their skin. His naivety evaporates very quickly when he realizes that he is surrounded by people who do not want to see farther than their noses and are extremely racist:
“I always thought Maycomb folks were the best folks in the world, least that’s what they seemed like.” (p. 486)
Jem loves his sister Scout dearly and knows that he has to protect her from anything that might cause her harm.
When she goes to Radley’s house and finds a piece of chewing gum in the knothole, he insists on her spitting it out and to promise him to never take anything from the knothole ever again.
All the attempts to go and take a look at Boo Radley, as well as the fact that many of those attempts succeeded, suggest that Jem is a very adventurous kid. At the very beginning of the story Dill dared Jem to go and touch Radley’s house. Scout made the following comment:
“In all his lifetime Jem never declined a dare.” (p. 41)
This suggests that Jem is up to pretty much any crazy mischief that life throws at him. He is ready to endure his adventures no matter what, and always agrees to any dares.
The Role of the Character and His Impact
In the story, Jem is a representation of bravery, courage, and good character. He is a just, honest and caring little boy who loves his sister very much. The main role he plays in the story is a representation of an innocent child who believes that a priori world is a safe place where everyone is a good citizen. Though, his views and character change drastically after he sees the horrors going on around him. He sees his father fail an attempt to convince people of his own hometown that Tom Robinson does not deserve to be punished because he simply is not guilty. It is hard for a child to comprehend the idea of people’s racial prejudice, inability to think rationally, be honest with themselves and stand up for truth.
Through the prism of Jem’s character Harper Lee shows that it is in our nature to be good and respectful to everyone. She explains that each of us is a child in our nature. Despite this, our society and the views it implements in our heads change our character, bringing horrible consequences to people who do not deserve to suffer and die.
The character of Jem Finch helps to showcase to readers an example of a brave, smart, curious, respectful, adventurous and sympathetic child who plays one of the main roles in the book. The author uses him and his sister to show good in people even if they forget about it sometimes, and in turn ruin innocent lives.