From Innocence to Morality: Jem Finch’s Evolution in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’

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To Kill a Mockingbird: The Quest for Equality in Maycomb

Thomas Jefferson stated that “all men are created equal and have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The main point of this quote is that all people should be treated equally. In reality, this is not how society is. Growing up in Maycomb, Alabama, in the 1930s made it hard for many people to possess high morals. The characters in “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee experience the racist customs and laws that were found to be normal.

Jem Finch’s Awakening to Racial Injustice in “To Kill a Mockingbird”

Jem Finch is one of the few children who understands the wrong of judging someone by their race. Possessing a role model with high morals can influence the way that others think. This means that when influenced by a person with high morals, things that may seem normal to others may be viewed as disrespectful. This includes the way that others were treated because of their race. On the other hand, Jem grew up with a father who believed that everyone should be treated equally.

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As a result, the actions of Jem’s father influenced the way that Jem thinks about situations. Atticus Finch, who is Jem’s father, was a white man who defended a negro named Tom Robinson. After seeing that the assumptions are not true about negros, Jem realizes that many people face injustice all the time because of their race. Jem makes the most moral growth in the novel by maturing more than most adults in Maycomb. He passes through all of the stages in Kohlberg’s theory of moral development.

Jem’s Journey Through Kohlberg’s Stages in To Kill a Mockingbird

Unquestionably, Jem starts off at stage one of Kohlberg’s theory at the beginning of the novel. In the novel, Jem, Dill, and Scout are sneaking around the Radley place. After trying many ways to get Boo Radley to come out, his brother named, Nathan, came outside and shot his gun into the air. Since the gunshots frightened the kids, they made an attempt to escape. While trying to run away, Jem’s pants got stuck on the Radley fence. Jem was scared about getting shot with Nathan Radley’s gun, so he left his pants and hurried home. Once the kids arrive home, Jem thinks about the punishments that he would receive from Atticus if he discovered the truth.

After a conversation with Scout, he says, “That’s why I’m goin’ after ’em.” Jem decides that the only way to stay out of trouble is to make an attempt to get his pants back. Jem has reached stage one of Kohlberg’s theory because he makes sure that he is in the right so that he would “avoid punishment.” Stage one states that a person makes sure that they seem that they are in the right. This is so that they avoid trouble with others.

To Kill a Mockingbird: Jem’s Struggle with Peer Pressure and Morality

After Jem reaches stage one, he quickly moves onto stage two of Kohlberg’s theory. Scout has come to the age where she is now required to go to school. Atticus expresses that he would like Jem to walk Scout to her first day of school. This is something Jem would not do because he would not want to be seen with his little sister. Once Atticus realizes the issue, he makes a deal with Jem. This consisted of him getting some money. After hearing the deal, “Jem condescended to take me to school the first day, a job usually done by one’s parents, but Atticus had said Jem would be delighted to show me where my room was.” When Atticus asks Jem to walk Scout to school, Jem shows obvious signs of not wanting to. In order for Jem to agree to do the task, Atticus needed to come up with a compromise.

The deal was that if Jem walked Scout to school, he would get money. When this offer was accepted, Jem ended up condescending. He walked Scout to school even though he did not want to. This scene from the novel shows that Jem has reached stage two in Kohlberg’s theory. This is because “we trade or cooperate with others in order to get what we want or need.” Atticus made a deal with Jem in order to get what he wanted.

Jem’s Moral Development in To Kill a Mockingbird: From Childhood to Adulthood

Undoubtedly, Jem slowly progressed into stage three of Kohlberg’s theory. Halloween had finally arrived in Maycomb. Scout and Jem were preparing for the pageant being held at school. Scout had been assigned to play the role of a ham. Since she was dressing up, she had the responsibility of performing on stage. To get there, she would have to walk alone in the dark. Atticus prohibited Scout from walking alone, so he suggested that Jem should walk with her. Jem reconsidered walking her, and after some time, he finally agreed. Scout observes that “Jem was carrying my ham costume rather awkwardly as it was hard to hold.” Jem’s decision to take Scout to the pageant showed that he had reached stage three of Kohlberg’s theory.

In stage three, “we are good by doing what is approved by others.” In other words, you will do something to get approval or to please someone. You are doing something to make someone happy. Jem knew that if he walked Scout to school, it would make him look like a gentleman, a responsible brother, and altruistic because he is thinking about Scout. These are all traits that Jem would want Atticus to think of him as. Therefore, Jem walks Scout to the pageant to get approval from Atticus.

Nobody denies that Jem based a lot of his decisions on what he believed was right for a long period of time. Dill is Jem and Scout’s good friend. One day, Jem found out that Dill had been hiding under Scout’s bed for a long period of time. This was because Dill ran away from Meridian, and he had no other place to go. Scout describes how when Jem figured out that Dill was there, “then he rose and broke the remaining code of our childhood.” Jem realized that it was wrong that Dill ran away from home. He understood that his family was worried about him. To ensure Dill’s safety, Jem decided that the right thing to do was to tell Atticus. In Scout’s eyes, this was a big deal.

Jem’s Moral Journey in “To Kill a Mockingbird”

She believed that Jem was not doing the right thing. This action taken by Jem showed that he had reached stage four of Kohlberg’s theory. In stage four, “We will obey the law because you believe that it is the right thing to do.” In other words, you understand the importance of rules, and you are starting to see what is right from wrong. Since Jem has now reached stage four, it shows that he is now starting to possess stronger morals.

In this situation, Jem is now beginning to mature into a young man. One night, Atticus left the house very late, and he took the car. These are things that Atticus does not normally do. Jem was aware of this, so he set out to make sure that his father was alright. When Jem headed out, he told Scout, “I’m goin’ downtown for a little while.” Jem was aware that something was not right. This action shows that Jem has reached stage five of Kohlberg’s theory. In stage five, “we have the ability to help others even when we are told not to.” In other words, you gain empathy based on a person’s situation. Aunt Alexandra would not let Jem leave the house at a late time, but Jem persisted because he cared about the safety of his father. Moving from stage one to stage five shows that Jem has made moral growth.

To Kill a Mockingbird: The Final Stages of Jem’s Moral Growth

Certainly, it is clear that Jem now possesses high morals towards the end of the novel. He has now reached the last stage of Kohlberg’s theory. Meanwhile, in the novel, Tom Robinson had been convicted guilty because he was accused of rape. At first, Jem is angry because he does not understand why Tom lost. Atticus later explains to him the reason for Tom losing. Jem reacted to the conversation by saying, “Doesn’t make it right, said Jem stolidly. He beat his fist softly against his knee. You just can’t convict a man on evidence like that — you can’t”. During this point in the novel, Jem has matured a lot. He is old enough to figure out the true meaning behind stuff that happens in Maycomb.

After hearing Atticus’s explanation, he realizes that Tom Robinson was convicted because of his race. Jem was very upset, angry, and frustrated about this. In stage six of Kohlberg’s theory, “your own beliefs and morals tell you what is right and wrong. Making sure that people are treated right is important to you”. Jem has reached stage six because he knows that Tom Robinson being convicted is unfair. Jem is upset about the injustice in Tom’s case.

It is essential for all people to eventually acquire strong morals in their lives. It is important for people to have the correct idea of what is right and wrong. Knowing this can ensure that people are being treated with justice. The racist stereotypes that were seen in the 1930s are still present today. Being able to distinguish right from wrong can reduce the mistreatment of all people. It is critical that people are able to be comfortable around others without the fear of being judged.


  1. Lee, H. (1960). To Kill a Mockingbird. J.B. Lippincott & Co.
  2. Kohlberg, L. (1969). Stages of moral development. Moral Education.

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From Innocence to Morality: Jem Finch's Evolution in 'To Kill a Mockingbird'. (2023, Aug 24). Retrieved from

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