“‘Naw, Jem, I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.'”(231) Whether or not the nature of all humankind can be traced down to similar roots, to a generalized nature of “folks”, is a topic discussed inconspicuously by Harper Lee, in her novel To Kill A Mockingbird.
Different insights on this discussion are conveyed to the readers through two siblings Scout and Jem, the leading characters in the novel. Despite being raised in the same general environment, and experiencing many major events in Maycomb together, both form different conclusions about the essential nature of humankind. Interestingly, Scout, the narrator, seems to believe that the essential nature of all humans can be traced down to being composed of both, good and bad. Whereas, Jem believes that people can be classified as either good or bad natured, based on the morality of their actions; and continues to grow cynical of Maycomb’s “folks”. These differences in opinions seem to arise from the age difference between Jem and Scout; Jem is four years Scout’s senior, and therefore, interprets the events shared with Scout at a much deeper, personal, and analytical level.
In addition, Scout goes through certain important experiences that she doesn’t share with Jem, which play a part in strengthening her own belief system about humankind. Thus, Scout and Jem’s varied interpretations of the same events and Scout’s significant personal experiences are the two principal reasons why Scout and Jem come to disparate conclusions regarding the essential nature of humankind, by the end of the novel.To begin with, one of the earliest events that are interpreted differently show up 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 as he had suspected, Mr. Radley was the one who had filled up the hole.
He also realizes that Mr. Radley did so because he came to know about the fact that Boo was giving Jem and Scout presents through that tree-hole and trying to get out of his own reclusive abode; which Mr. Radley perceived as an act of disobedience. This realization 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 goodness of human nature is shaken 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, as 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). Indirectly, this tells us that Jem believes Mr. Nathan to be morally evil, but classifies Boo as good-natured.
In addition, we can deduce that Jem’s begun to dismiss his, Scout’s, and Atticus’s original belief that all humans have fair quantities of both good and evil in them. Jem begins to think that people are either good or evil, in terms of how they act since he doesn’t seem to see how Mr. Nathan could be nice as well, after what he tries to do to Boo.
Finally, in Chapter 8, Scout says she has no idea who Jem is talking about that was giving gifts in the tree, the one whom Mr. Radley tried to stop. (74) This shows that Scout was, and still is, too young to understand and interpret certain events at her brother’s level since she couldn’t figure out that Mr. Nathan had tried to stop Boo from being their potential friend. So at this point, even though Jem’s beliefs about human nature are altered, Scout’s original beliefs are not; this event essentially is 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, again, is that Scout is too young to completely understand and be affected by the trial whereas the more matured Jem, interprets the trial deeply and gets personally attached to the trial.
This is why he sobs angrily at the announcement of the verdict (284), showing his increasing cynicism toward the people in Maycomb. As proof of this attitude, in Chapter 22 during a conversation with Miss Maudie, 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 distrust and implies that folks in Maycomb are unwise and immoral to refrain from taking any steps against the accusations directed at Tom. Scout, however, being too young to understand the trial and its events deeply enough, continues to believe that the nature of even seemingly wicked people can contain some good. This is evident when Scout consoles Dill because the “hateful” diction of Mr.
Gilmer towards Tom during the trial, hurts him deeply; “Dill, that’s his job. Why, if we didn’t have prosecutors—well, we couldn’t have defense attorneys, I reckon.”(202) This indicates that Scout declines Dill’s accusation that Mr. Gilmer can be purely ill-natured by proving that the expressed nature could be an obligation.
Moreover, Scout never cries or shows any severe signs of hurt and cynicism after the trial. This shows that Scout is incapable of developing cynical views of the Maycomb society like Jem because her lack of maturity won’t allow her to do so. In these ways, the trial proves to be the incident which substantially increases the difference between the siblings’ belief systems, with Jem and Scout parting ways in their philosophical views.Lastly, some experiences that Scout doesn’t share with Jem, greatly strengthen Scout’s viewpoint that no human is purely evil or purely good.
For example, Jem is unconscious throughout pages 265-285, during which Scout gets a first-hand experience of the remarkable goodness of humankind when her eyes see the softness in Boo’s rumored vicious nature. She realizes that it was Arthur “Boo” Radley who had saved her life while risking his own. Moreover, when Boo asks Scout, “Will you take me home?”, Scout notices that “He almost whispered it, in the voice of a child afraid of the dark.”(282) This shows that Boo has a non-criminal nature; he is instead very shy and afraid of even a child 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… “.Through this sequence of events with Boo, Scout finally sees that someone who has the capability of being a potential murderer in the past can actually be brave and nice.
Thus, despite some events like the trial where Scout may have grown doubtful over her beliefs, her personal experiences strengthened her initial perspective on the basic goodness of human nature. Whereas Jem remained excluded from these events, missing the strong realizations that could’ve altered his beliefs enough to match with Scout’s.On the whole, Scout’s belief in the goodness of mankind remains consistent, whereas Jem’s belief veers off of Scout’s path and ends up distrustful of the goodness embodied in human nature.
In the process of investigating the roots of this human nature, Scout reaches the conclusion that the nature of mankind does have the similar roots, those of good and evil’s coexistence. Conversely, Jem concludes that human nature can be split into two different categories, each with its own different roots, one with the essence of goodness, and other with the opposite. Today, I believe that Scout’s ideals hold true, even though they were formed by Scout at an immature age in the novel. An old saying goes, “Take the good with the bad”, and that’s just what Scout did when analyzing a person’s nature, and if we do that today, our impressions of others can change. All humans have a common nature in which good and evil coexist, since “Deep in their roots, all flowers keep their light.
“(Roethke); what makes the difference is which portion of it we see at first sight and which part of the nature he or she express the most. Such understanding, if acquired by all humans, could lessen the hatred that humans sometimes hold against each other, “There is so much of good in human nature that men grow to like each other upon better acquaintance, and this points to another way in which we may strive to promote the peace of the world.”(Elihu)