“Only a child sees things with perfect clarity, because it hasn’t developed those filters, which prevent us from seeing things that we don’t expect to see.
“(“Children’s Quotes”) In the novel To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Scout and Jem come to different conclusions about the essential nature of humankind, despite experiencing many major events in Maycomb together, such as the trial and the surprising occurrence of presents in a knot-hole of the Radley house tree. The fundamental reason behind this seems to be the age difference between Jem and Scout; Jem is four years Scout’s senior, and therefore, more mature in his understanding of the world. This difference in their maturity level leads them to understanding and interpreting the same events in contrasting ways. Also, Scout, the narrator, goes through some important experiences that she doesn’t share with Jem, such as meeting Boo at the end of the story, and escorting him home. Experiences like those also play a part in strengthening Scout’s own belief system about humankind, which starts to differ from Jem’s since very early in the novel. Thus, Scout and Jem’s different interpretations of the same events and Scout’s significant personal experiences are the two main reasons why Scout and Jem come to disparate conclusions regarding the essential nature of humankind by the end of the novel.One of the earliest examples of events that were interpreted differently, is in Chapter 7, when Mr. Nathan Radley fills up the knot-hole in the “gift-giving” tree with cement.
When Scout and Jem first discover the hole filled up, Jem is alarmed and confused whereas Scout is terribly hurt and crying, since she’s too young to cope with the brash reply to her kindness. Soon, Jem figures that Mr. Radley filled up the hole, because, like Jem had suspected, Boo was the one putting the presents in the tree-hole and trying to make friends, which Mr. Radley didn’t want him to do. This realization is what hurts Jem enough to make him cry, ” … I saw he had been crying; …”(65). This strikes Jem at the heart, and his basic faith in the essential goodness of human nature is altered for the first time in this novel. He finally sees that Mr.
Radley had tried to keep Boo a recluse throughout his life by blocking his access to the outside world, like Jem admits in Chapter 8, “…Mr.
Nathan put cement in that tree, Atticus, an’ heMr. Nathan did it to stop us findin’ things—… heBoo ain’t ever harmed us, …”(74). This quote indirectly tells us that Jem believes Mr. Nathan was entirely evil, and Boo is fully nice. Also, it shows that Jem’s begun to dismiss his, Scout’s, and Atticus’s original assumption or idea, that all humans have fair quantities of both good and evil in them, he seems to start thinking that people are either all good or all evil, in terms of how they act. Finally, in Chapter 8, Scout says that she has no idea who to thank for the blanket, and who Jem is talking about that was giving gifts in the tree, whom Mr.
Radley tried to stop. (74) This shows that Scout was, and still is, too immature to understand and interpret events at the level Jem is, since she couldn’t figure out that Mr. Nathan had tried to stop Boo from being their potential friend.
Therefore, at this point, even though Jem’s beliefs about human nature are altered, Scout’s original beliefs are not, at least not yet, which is why this event is essentially when Scout and Jem’s belief systems begin to differ. As the novel progresses, Tom Robinson’s trial comes into play, having a dramatic effect on Jem and a comparatively subtle effect on Scout. The reason behind this is that Scout is too young to completely understand and be affected by the trial, whereas Jem, being more mature in his understanding, interprets the trial very deeply and gets very attached to the trial. This is why he sobs angrily at the announcement of the verdict (284), and his cynicism toward the people in Maycomb, that started with the incident mentioned in the previous paragraph, is dramatically strengthened. For example, in Chapter 22, in an conversation with Miss Maudie, reflecting on the trial, Jem says, “I always thought Maycomb folks were the best folks in the world, at least that’s what they seemed like.”(288).
These reactions show that Jem lost his trust in the goodness of “Maycomb folks”. Here, Jem clearly expresses his loss of trust and implies that folks in Maycomb are not wise, many are immoral. On the other hand, Scout, being too young to understand the trial and its events deeply enough, continues to believe that even seemingly wicked people can have some level of goodness in them, no one is completely evil. This is evident when Scout reassures Dill when he is deeply hurt by the “hateful” diction of Mr.
Gilmer towards Tom, saying, “Dill, that’s his job. Why, if we didn’t have prosecutors—well, we couldn’t have defense attorneys, I reckon.”(202) This quote shows how Scout doesn’t want to admit that someone can be purely evil. Moreover, after the trial, Scout never cries or shows any severe signs of hurt and cynicism, or even a shadow of such.
This shows that is Scout incapable of developing cynical views of the Maycomb society after the trial like Jem, because her lack of maturity won’t allow her to do so. Therefore, the trial is the incident after which Jem and Scout’s difference in their belief systems about human nature gets substantially bigger and Jem and Scout part ways in their philosophical views.Lastly, some experiences that Scout doesn’t share with Jem, greatly strengthen Scout’s viewpoint on the essential nature of humankind, that no human is purely evil or purely adequate. For example, Jem is unconscious throughout pages 265-285. During this time, Scout experiences the wonderful goodness of human nature. She experiences the trace of goodness in Boo’s so-called monstrous nature.
Scout realizes that it was Arthur “Boo” Radley that saved her and Jem’s life risking his own. Moreover, when Boo asks Scout, “Will you take me home?”, Scout remarks that “He almost whispered it, in the voice of a child afraid of the dark.”(282) This shows that Boo has a completely non-criminal nature, that he is instead very shy and afraid of even a kid like Scout. She admits to this viewpoint on page 285, saying, ” … when they finally saw him, why he hadn’t done any of those things..
. Atticus, he was real nice… “. Scout finally sees through this sequence of events with Boo, that someone who had the capability of being a criminal and a potential murderer in the past can actually be very brave, nice, and friendly. Thus, this is one of Scout’s many personal experiences that strengthen her own original viewpoint on the essential goodness of human nature, despite some events like the trial, where her she may have grown doubtful over her beliefs. These experiences evidently contributed to the development of her viewpoint, or belief system, on the basic nature of humankind, and forced it to differ from Jem’s.
On the whole, all mentioned experiences contribute to the development of the siblings’ divergent belief systems regarding the essential nature of humankind. Jem comes to the conclusion that in a humankind, good and evil cannot coexist. At the same time, Scout comes to the conclusion that no matter how evil or how good a person may seem based on his or her actions, all humans are comprised of both natures, good and evil. This difference in Jem and Scout’s ideals, in fact, links strongly to the concept of one’s own identity and stereotypes.
In a sense, Jem is imposing a stereotype of good or evil on the people of Maycomb, after the events of the trial, when he is upset with Maycomb’s population because he believes that no one except Atticus tried to help acquit Tom Robinson. As mentioned in paragraph 2, Jem gives readers the idea that he believes Maycomb’s “folks” to be worse than they seemed. His use of the word “folks” generalizes the identity and nature of the entire population of Maycomb, turning his comment into a stereotype. On the other hand, Scout is trying to figure out an individual’s nature by looking at that individual’s actions from multiple perspectives, in an effort to find some clue that disproves the identity of the stereotyped “folks”. All in all, Scout respects person’s identity, whereas Jem is generalizing the identity of a certain group of humans, based on their outer, expressed nature.