Meet Jem Finch of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird

Jem Finch
Mary Badham as Scout and Phillip Alford as Jem
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Who is Jem Finch?

To Kill a Mockingbird’s Jeremy Atticus Finch (“Jem”) was born into a highly respected Southern family in the 1920s. Thanks to the character and morals of his father, Atticus Finch, Jem is blessed with a sense of what is truly right and wrong—ideals to which he faithfully holds. When Jem believes an injustice has occurred, he takes it as a personal affront to his beliefs.

Though Jem shares his father’s mild temperament, he tends to suppress his emotions—which can result in an explosion of confusion and confrontation, seen several times throughout the novel. This character is both young and complex. Much of To Kill a Mockingbird is driven by Jem’s relationships, both good and bad.  He is also the mirror for many of the other characters in the book, providing a way to measure their progress and echoing their issues.

How Jem Finch Sees Himself

Does Jem see himself as superior? Probably not in the usual sense. However, his sister, Scout, may beg to differ. Jem’s is not a superiority in the way his fellow townsfolk in To Kill a Mockingbird see their own races or stations in life, but more of a knowledge that he is older and wiser than those people caught in the common trappings he and his sister may encounter. Jem seems to have a sense of belonging to the world around him and he sees no reason not to state his opinions without hesitation.  He is the sort of boy his father was, and he is making progress towards being the same sort of man as Atticus Finch, the hero of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Protector and Brother

In a time when the world may have seen young girls as inferior or even fragile, Jem Finch does not see Scout as either. Of course, his first instinct is to protect his sister, and this admirable quality shines through in his adventures with Scott, even though she sometimes rejects his attempts to defend her. His protective instincts for others surface on more than one occasion as Jem’s character becomes a companion to additional characters in the book, and he finds himself– in many ways– on equal footing with Scout. As Jem becomes older, his relationship with his sister changes. The years that pass bring him a new maturity and enhance the characteristics of a strong, emotionally receptive young man in his To Kill a Mockingbird role.

What Does Jem Finch Learn?

Many believe that Jem’s primary motivation is to be the sort of person in which his father would not find fault. However, interestingly, in certain circumstances throughout To Kill a Mockingbird, Jem Finch does and says things just to get a reaction, reminding us that he is just a child. He is intelligent and not without a lack of sensitivity for the time in which he lives, and Jem comes to realize that no matter how you may sway people to your beliefs, you are not always able to affect their actions. This sensitivity could be his emotional downfall as he struggles with the realities of the blatant injustice that permeates the time. Phillip Alford, who plays Jem in the film adaptation, brings this character to life, giving us a real life glimpse of a this coming-of-age story of Jem Finch, as he becomes (sometimes painfully) aware of himself, his surroundings and those in his community.

What does Jem Finch Represent?

If we were to do a character sketch of  To Kill a Mockingbird’s Jem Finch, what would be foremost as a descriptor? While he definitely offers a complex array of characteristics, bravery would certainly be on the top of the list. Jem shows bravery in his decision-making and bravery in his actions, many of which he knows may get him into trouble. Jem sees small acts of bravery as a way of making his life more meaningful; but as he grows, he witnesses bravery in the acts of others and learns from those experiences. Fearlessness changes Jem and he soon learns that a childish action may seem righteous now, but nothing compares to the courage he sees in others.

At the end of To Kill a Mockingbird, Jem is well on his way to becoming a young Atticus Finch. We can see this in his character’s intense loathing of the unjust. Jem Finch ages from 10 to 13 throughout the novel. While the time period is short, the difference in the young man’s maturity level from the beginning of the novel to the end is evident.

Do you relate to Jem Finch? Let us know!



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