To Kill a Mockingbird

by: Harper Lee

Chapters 23–25

Both Jem and Scout are forced to face the adult world in these chapters to an unprecedented degree. In fact, Jem is actually beginning to enter the adult world, showing Scout his chest hair and contemplating trying out for football. Jem and Atticus discuss the judicial system in Maycomb County for much of Chapter 23. Their conversation is an education for Jem in the realities not only of the jury system but also of life. Atticus’s revelation that the Cunningham on the jury wanted to acquit Tom presents Jem with a remarkable instance of an uneducated white man being able to see beyond his ingrained racial prejudice—a further indication that the adult world is complex rather than black and white, as is the world of children.

Scout, meanwhile, moves closer to the adult world by drawing closer to Alexandra. Alexandra’s refusal to have the lowly Walter Cunningham to dinner puts her at odds with Jem and Scout, providing them with another opportunity to deride Maycomb’s ludicrously irrational social hierarchy. But the missionary tea party reveals Alexandra’s better side. The scene brilliantly portrays the hypocrisy of the Maycomb ladies. “Mrs. Merriweather’s large brown eyes always filled up with tears when she considered the oppressed [in Africa],” Scout notes, yet the same woman can complain that “there’s nothing more distracting than a sulky darky.” In the wake of hearing of Tom Robinson’s tragic death, however, the tea party becomes an opportunity for the Finch women to display moral courage by maintaining a public facade of composure. Mr. Underwood likens Tom’s death to “the senseless slaughter of songbirds,” an obvious reference to the novel’s title. In this moment, Alexandra and Scout stand together as finches, as harmless as mockingbirds, forced to bear the white community’s utter disregard of justice.

Whereas Jem embraces entrance into the adult world, Scout seems reluctant about it. Jem proudly shows Scout his chest hair as a mark of his emergence into manhood. Scout’s badge of incipient womanhood, the dress that she wears to the missionary circle meeting, doesn’t suit her; she wears her usual tomboy trousers underneath. Additionally, whereas Jem intently discusses aspects of the complicated legal system with Atticus, Miss Stephanie teases the young Scout about growing up to be a lawyer. This difference in maturity between Jem and Scout manifests itself in the incident with the roly-poly bug. Wishing to withdraw back into the childhood world of actions without abstract significance, Scout moves to crush the bug. Jem, now sensitive to the vulnerability of those who are oppressed, urges her to leave the defenseless bug alone.