Jem Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird: Character, Traits & Quotes

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  • 0:01 Jem Finch Enlightens Us
  • 0:33 Jem and Bravery
  • 2:14 How Jem Is Like His Father
  • 3:56 Jem Shows His Humanity
  • 5:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Susan Nagelsen

Susan has directed the writing program in undergraduate colleges, taught in the writing and English departments, and criminal justice departments.

Jeremy Atticus Finch, Jr., or Jem, is growing into an adolescent in 'To Kill a Mockingbird.' Jem is brave and curious, has a protective nature, and comes to understand his own sense of morality.

Jem Finch Enlightens Us

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Jeremy Atticus Finch, Jr., who goes by Jem, teaches us about what it means to be human. Jem sees and feels the unfairness that is often present in the world, and we feel it too. Jem learns about bigotry and sees that prejudice can be hurtful. In many ways, Jem becomes our eyes and ears into the cruelty of the world and what you need to learn to be an honorable, principled man in the world today.

Jem and Bravery

As the story opens, we see Jem attempting to be brave. He is curious to a fault about Boo Radley, and his bravery takes the form of running up to the Radley house, touching the side, and running back to where Dill and Scout are waiting. Scout helps us understand: 'In all his life, Jem had never declined a dare.'

As the story moves forward, Jem's appreciation for the concept of bravery grows when he watches, awe struck, as Atticus shoots Tim Johnson, a rabid dog. He was sitting with Scout, waiting for the dog to be picked up, lost in thought about what he had seen. He turned to Scout: ''d you see him, Scout? 'd you see him just standin' there? . . . 'n' all of a sudden he just relaxed all over, an' it looked like that gun was part of him . . . an' he did it so quick, like . . . I hafta aim for ten minutes 'fore I can hit somethin' . . .' He sees bravery in his father, and his admiration for his ability to handle the problem grows by leaps and bounds. He has always looked up to Atticus, but his respect is even larger now.

Atticus wants his children to learn about bravery. Jem has to read to Mrs. Dubose as a punishment for getting angry and destroying her camellias. She is dying, but Jem and Scout worm their way into this cranky old woman's heart. Atticus makes it clear what he thinks of her courage: 'I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is 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.'

How Jem Is Like His Father

Jem wants to be like Atticus, his father. He has made it clear he is going to study the law. He admires his father for his actions and his beliefs. He would rather do anything than disappoint Atticus. Like his father, Jem sometimes makes decisions that will not be popular with the crowd. We see his sense of right and wrong. When Dill runs away from home and ends up in Scout's bedroom, Jem tells him, 'You oughta let your mother know where you are.' He even goes so far as to tell Atticus what is going on, knowing that this will make him unpopular with his friends. Jem believes his decision was the right one.

When the lynch mob shows up at the Maycomb jail, Jem needs to go and check on Atticus. Jem refuses to leave when Atticus gets insistent: 'Jem shook his head. As Atticus's fists went to his hips, so did Jem's, and as they faced each other I could see little resemblance between them: Jem's soft brown hair and eyes, his oval face and snug-fitting ears were our mother's, contrasting oddly with Atticus's graying black hair and square-cut features, but they were somehow alike. Mutual defiance made them alike.'

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