Friday, September 10, 2010

Jem Finch's Courage

Jem Finch is a young man who will certainly walk in the shoes of his father. Even as an adolescent, Jem possesses a strong moral compass, one that leads him to stand up for right.

Granted, Jem is a normal, mischievous boy, capable of trespassing on the Radley’s property and keeping his transgression a secret. His rich imagination, fueled by Dill’s gifts for story-telling, lures the children into a daily re-enactment of the legend of Boo Radley, revealing that Jem, like every human being at any age, could be quite thoughtless.

Moreover, like most children, Jem underestimates his own father and misreads a man’s worth when Jem believes that his father “can’t do anything” until the day Jem sees his dad shoot a rabid dog cleanly, an act that Jem deems manly. Finally, Jem, like most men and women, has a temper that shows itself when he cuts down Mrs. Dubose’s camellias, an act for which he feels little remorse.

Still, Jem’s progress through the novel proves his moral strength and his character. Jem analyzes the gifts left in the hollow of a tree on the Radley property, and he concludes that they are given generously as gestures of friendship. Jem also plays the part of big brother quite well. On the night that Miss Maudie’s house burns, Jem reassures Scout and serves as her eyes when she is too frightened to look herself. Jem also makes peace for Scout when she attacks Walter Cunningham in the school yard, and he escorts his little sister to the October school pageant. Jem may grow impatient with Scout and, at 12, be less inclined to let her tag along, but he upholds his duty as a big brother honorably.

More significantly, Jem weighs and measures the community throughout the Tom Robinson trial. He bears the insults peaceably, only striking back at a symbol of intolerance--Mrs. Dubose--and then only harming her iconic flowers, camellias. Jem also senses the dangers that his father faces, especially on the night that Tom Robinson returns to the Maycomb county jail. Jem sneaks out in order to check on his dad and refuses to go home when told to do so. He may be a child, but he will stand by his dad, courageously defending and protecting against something he cannot even imagine for, until the verdict, Jem believes Maycomb to be the best town, populated by good neighbors. He has not yet seen the masks come off, exposing hatred below.

Jem disobeys Atticus to witness first-hand the unjust brand of justice in Maycomb. Jem’s empathy and moral evolution prove themselves when he grieves for Tom Robinson, his father, and his town. Jem even cries until Miss Maudie reminds him that Judge Taylor chose Atticus in an effort to save Robinson. She also explains that Atticus’ careful defense made the jurors’ verdict more troublesome to their consciences and, readers hope, to their souls. With these points, Miss Maudie suggests that some of Maycomb’s citizens are indeed fine, foremost among them, Jem’s father.

Jem’s finest hour is that October night when he steps between harm and Scout. Jem uses whatever instinct and physical strength he possesses to save her, shouting “Run, Scout!” as his attacker, Bob Ewell, tosses him aside, twisting his arm into an unnatural form. Jem’s first instinct is courage in the face of danger, living the lesson that his father taught him by standing against harm and hatred.