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To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee

THE NOVEL

THE CHARACTERS

  • ATTICUS FINCH

    Atticus Finch sets a standard of morality that no other character in the book comes close to matching. Atticus is a studious man whose behavior is governed by reason. Once he decides that a given course of action is right, he perseveres regardless of threats or criticisms.

    But Atticus is not a crusader. He does not go looking for causes to champion. The Tom Robinson case was not one he volunteered to handle- the judge assigned him the case because he felt Atticus would do his best to win. Atticus' desire to avoid conflict when possible is another quality that the author obviously wants us to admire. Readers may have differing opinions about this quality.

    NOTE: You may have noticed that some characters' names in this story have hidden meanings. For example, Scout is a seeker, scouting out new areas of experience. Atticus' name is a reference to the district (Attica) of ancient Greece in which Athens was located. In some ways Atticus' rational approach to life is similar to that of ancient philosophers. You might look up the views of the Stoics; their philosophy has a certain resemblance to Atticus' type of southern gentleman.

  • JEM

    Scout's older brother Jeremy, or Jem, Finch changes considerably over the course of the novel. At first you see him as Scout's playmate and equal. Once the children start school, however, Jem becomes more aware of the difference in age between himself and his sister. He doesn't want her to embarrass him in front of his fifth-grade friends. And later he and Dill develop a friendship from which Scout is partly excluded because she is a girl. In this part of the story you see Jem as the wiser older brother. He is the first to figure out that Boo Radley has been trying to communicate with them, and he does his best to explain unfamiliar words to Scout, even though he often gets their meanings wrong.

    Jem is also the more thoughtful and introverted of the Finch children. Unlike Scout, who is a fighter by temperament, Jem seems determined to obey his father's request to avoid fighting. He lets his anger build inside, until one day in a fit of temper he destroys Mrs. Dubose's garden. Later, at the time of the trial, Jem's optimistic view of human nature becomes apparent. He is probably the only person in town who really believes that justice will be done and Tom Robinson found innocent. When this does not happen, his disillusionment is so great that for a time he can't stand even to talk about the incident.

    By the end of the story Jem is almost grownup. On the surface, he seems quicker than Scout to put the trial behind, but inwardly, he has been more disturbed than Scout by the events of the trial. Some readers think that Jem's broken arm at the end of the story is a sign that he will be wounded forever by what he has observed. Scout, on the other hand, has been protected from harm by the hard shell of her silly ham costume- a symbol, perhaps, of the sense of humor that insulates her from bitterness.

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    © Copyright 1984 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
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