Strong Presence of Bravery in To Kill a Mockingbird
Prejudice, social inequality, bravery, including the battle between good and evil (asyndeton) are what humans struggle with in the world. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee establishes that one requires bravery if they aspire to face their fears and overcome the obstacles that life designs for them because sometimes bravery means being the person who stands out in the crowd, who speaks up, and who must hold a voice, either the voice they need to hear, or a voice for others. Taking place in Maycomb, Alabama in the 1930s, Scout, her brother Jem, and the rest of her family struggle to find happiness and peace as they try to stay true to themselves in a prejudice society. Invested in their own prejudice they spy on Boo Radley, their “creepy” neighbor who never comes out. Each summer they try to find something new about him or try to get him to come out of the house. Whilst their father, Atticus, a lawyer, faces one of the biggest challenges of his life, defending Tom Robinson, a black man who is accused of raping Mayella Ewell, a white woman. In the middle of all of this, Jem faces a new reality where protection and sympathy for others force him to overcome his own fear and misjudgments about Boo Radley and Maycomb society. Lee uses Jem’s deportment to demonstrate that bravery, whatever it is sometimes is to be genuine, to be able to endure, to be an act of bravery, must also be an act of affection. Whether of a thing or of a character or of a position, bravery must be displayed through respect and self-improvement.
Bravery requires people to face their weakness and make a change – to put others’ needs over their own comfort or peace of mind. Jem shows this when he tells Atticus about dill escaping and refuses to obey his dad’s will in the face of danger during the mob. When Scout and Jem tell their new friend, Dill, about the horror stories of Boo Radley and his family, Dill dares Jem to touch the front of the house, because of his pride, Jem never backs out of a dare. After three days of deliberation, Jem finally decides to touch the house. Jem believes that the Radley house might be the scariest place on the Earth, he knows all the stories and rumors that can’t, but, could be true, on account of his fortitude and pride, he runs to the house and touches it. Jem touches the house because he believes that it will make him look cool and brave in front of his friends. At this point, Jem doesn’t understand the true meaning of bravery. Later on in the book, Jem invents a game called “The Boo Radley Game”. Scout, Jem, and Dill play the game by making up stories about the Radley family and then acting them out. When Jem creates the Boo Radley game as entertainment for the summertime, Scout says, ‘Jem’s head at times was transparent: he had thought that up to make me understand he wasn’t afraid of Radleys in any shape or form, to contrast his own fearless heroism with my cowardice’ (Lee 51).
The notion of bravery remains very important to Jem, and he develops it as much as he can. He moves from weakly accepting a dare to touch the Radley house to create a game in which they take on the personas of various Radley family members. He seems ready to do anything just to prove that he remains unafraid. This could further prove that because he accepts the dare, it increases his pride. At this point in time, he believes that he has done the impossible, he is on top of the world. As the book progresses, Lee hints that Jem is growing up: he doesn’t want Scout pestering him and Calpurnia, their nurse, now starts to refer to him as “Mister Jem”. On top of it all, he now develops the kind of wisdom that remains reserved for adults. Owing to the fact that Jem is growing up, his bravery might grow as well. When Scout calls out to Jem thinking that there might be a snake under her bed, Jem doesn’t hesitate in going to help his sister. He grabs a broom and heads for possible danger. When Jem checks if there is a snake he finds out that it’s actually their friend Dill. Dill tells them the story of how he ran away from home because he doesn’t like it. Scout and Jem are shocked. Dill doesn’t want anyone to know that he escaped, because he doesn’t want to go back: “‘You oughta tell your mother know where you are,’ said Jem. ‘You oughta let her know you’re here’… Dill’s eyes flickered at Jem and Jem looked at the floor. Then he rose and broke the remaining code of our childhood. He went out of the room and down the hall ‘Atticus’, his voice was distant can you come here a minute, sir?’”(Lee 187) Jem knows that his friend might be in trouble so he gets an adult who might make the problem better. He does this despite the fact that his friendship with Dill might be ruined. He chooses security over self needs. He acts on his instincts to call his father over. Dill is the only friend that Jem has who takes interest in his games and has a maturity close to him, he puts this friendship in jeopardy when he goes against his friend’s will. He risks being cast out of the friendship with Dill – he does the adult thing because he realizes people are worried about Dil.
Jem’s most courageous act occurs when the mob confronts Atticus at the jail, determined to kill not only Tom but also Atticus if required. Jem refuses to obey his father for the first time in his life. Scout explains, ‘In the midst of this strange assembly, Atticus stood trying to make Jem mind him. ‘I ain’t going,’ was his steady answer… I felt Jem had his own reasons for going as he did’ (Lee 204). Even Scout recognizes that Jem manifests great courage. This is the first time that Jem puts his foot down and shows his true courage to his father. This could have gotten them killed. He disobeys his father even though this act could result in a greater problem. He doesn’t care that he and his family might get killed, he only cares about keeping his father safe. By doing this, Jem opens the eyes of his family that his bravery is not just something that he does to get attention, he shows his family that his courage lives as a part of who he is. Jem realizes that if he truly wants to be brave, he will have to do much more than accepting a dare. He risks physical danger and Atticus’s disappointment to protect his sister, and then his father. He demonstrates both physical and moral courage, and the incident ultimately brings Jem and his father closer together. At this point, Jem gets that he needs to be brave when the situation asks him to choose between his own safety and the safety of others. Bravery is something that grows and develops throughout life. When Jem shows bravery, he begins to beget faith in himself and he also shows more comfort in participating in new ways of living. Jem learns that bravery involves knowing what holds importance and knowing his own strengths and learning to evaluate situations before acting on them.
Throughout Jem’s adventures and experiences, Lee makes it clear that Jem takes every opportunity he gets from life to prove and improve his bravery. As the story moves on, Jem might possess a tacit motto that makes him go for it whenever he is faced with danger or possible danger. Jem’s bravery leads him to become a more mature person. From fantasizing about Boo Radley to becoming a possible hero to his sister and family. He accepts Dill’s dare even though Boo Radley might be a psychopathic man child. He invents a game about Boo Radley ignoring the fact that Boo Radley might watch. He does this because it’s who he is. All children struggle to become brave because of what people tell them, “that can’t happen, it’s impossible, you can’t do that” and so much more. Jem’s bravery doesn’t come from what people tell him he, his bravery is based on what he wants to be, he wants to be a hero, a man, a gentleman.
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