Mockingbird Mondays – Part 6
BIG BROTHER JEM
Hello and welcome back to Mockingbird Mondays. Today I want to talk about Scout’s big brother, Jem. Yes, it is spelled right. It is short for Jeremy, his full name being Jeremy Atticus Finch. Before I read this book I had never seen or heard of anyone named Jeremy being called Jem. I also think it is especially fitting that his middle name is Atticus, after his father since all through the book he’s trying to figure out who Atticus is. Jem ages from ten to thirteen in the novel, the years when most boys are watching their dads closely and silently trying to learn how to be a man.
For example, one night when Miss Maudie’s house catches on fire, Atticus tells Jem to go take Scout down the street and stay with her. Atticus expects Jem to take care of his sister which he does. When Scout starts fretting, we read, “Jem put his arm around me. ‘Hush, Scout,’ he said, ‘It ain’t time to worry yet. I’ll let you know when.'” (1)-pg. 78. Later during all the commotion Jem points to Atticus and tells her, “See there, he’s not worried yet, said Jem.” (2)–pg. 79. His and Scout’s comfort comes from Atticus’s reaction to the situation.
On another day when Atticus gets talked into shooting a rabid dog, Jem is dumbfounded. He has no idea that in the past his dad was known as “One-Shot Finch.” He learns that Mr. Tate and Miss Maudie knew about it, but Jem seems to feel hurt that Atticus never told him and Scout that he could shoot a gun that well. All he has ever known is that Atticus has never wanted anything to do with guns. As Jem watches this event unfold before his eyes, he is amazed at how the gun seems to become part of Atticus. Jem tells Scout that in comparison to Atticus, he has “to aim for ten minutes ‘fore I can hit somethin’.” (3)-pg.111.
Jem has a short temper, especially with Scout. One day he and Scout and Dill decide to play with a tire in the street. Scout gets rolled down the hill in it first. It rolls right into Boo Radley’s front yard. Scout is disoriented when it first hits the house. Jem is screaming at her to get up and get the tire. As she begins walking back without the tire, he says, “Bring it with you! Ain’t you got any sense at all?” (4) pg. 42.
He gets downright cantankerous with her at times. When he and Dill decide to try to see Boo Radley through his window, her fear causes her to plead with him not to go. As she follows him and Dill down the street in the dark begging him not to go, he becomes so frustrated he turns on her and says, “Scout, I’m tellin’ you for the last time, shut your trap or go home-I declare to the Lord you’re gettin’ more like a girl every day!” (5)- pg. 58. These remarks insult her since she prides herself on being as little like a girl as possible. I think he insults her because she is worrying over him, but deep down I believe he appreciates her concern for his safety. He struggles with his feelings, though, because he still thinks of her as more of a buddy than a sister, someone he can boss around and talk down to whenever he feels like it.
His affection for her is most evident when he shares his trunk of treasures with her where he keeps all of the things Boo Radley has left for them in the tree before the knothole gets cemented over.
Another aspect of Jem’s character is his superstitious nature. He makes many off-handed comments about all of the things he believes when he is with Scout and Dill. For instance, when he finds out Scout is chewing gum she found in the knothole of the Radley tree, he tells her she could get killed just from touching the trees in that yard.
When he finds the Indian heads he tells Scout they come from Indians, so they are valuable. “They’re real strong magic, they make you have good luck.” (6) – pg. 40
Another time he tells Dill about “hot steams.” He says, “A Hot Steam is somebody who can’t get to heaven, just wallows around on lonesome roads an’ if you walk through him, when you die you’ll be one, too, an’ you’ll go around at night suckin’ people’s breath.” (7) – pg. 41. I seem to recall hearing when I was a kid that if you walked through a cold spot, it was a ghost. To this day this is what I think of whenever I feel one!
Lastly, I love the way Scout describes how Jem is changing as he grows older. She opens Chapter 12 in Part Two of the novel saying, “Jem was twelve. He was difficult to live with, inconsistent, moody.” (8) – pg.131. Scout doesn’t like how Jem goes off by himself more and doesn’t want her around as much. She tells Calpurnia, “All he needs is somebody to beat him up, and I ain’t big enough.” (9) – pg. 131. The irony in this is that even though Scout knows she isn’t big enough to beat Jem up, she sure as hell tries to when he tells her to stop antagonizing their Aunt! She’s spunky and never afraid of Jem!
When the trial ends and Tom Robinson is found guilty even though he is innocent, Jem is so upset about it that Scout tells us,
“It was Jem’s turn to cry. His face was streaked with angry tears as we made our way through the cheerful crowd. ‘It ain’t right,’ he muttered, all the way to the corner of the square where we found Atticus waiting… Then we are told that when the kids reach Atticus Jem says,
‘It ain’t right, Atticus,’ said Jem.
‘No, son, it’s not right.’” (10) – pg. 242
Atticus validates Jem. Many times throughout the novel Atticus takes time to explain things to both of the kids so they are not in the dark about why people think the way they do. By the end of the novel I think Jem has grown up quite a bit for a young boy. I think Jem must become a wonderful man just like his father.
Until next Monday, have a wonderful week, and give someone you love a big hug. 🙂
Y’all come back now, ya hear?
Footnotes #1-10 all from To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, First Perennial Classic edition, Harper Collins Publishers, 2002.
Posted on February 23, 2015, in Writing and tagged Atticus, Harper Lee, Mockingbird Mondays, Part #1, Part #2, part #3, part #4, Part 6, Part 7, Scout, To Kill a Mockingbird, writing. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.