The Character Traits of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird
Jean Louise Finch or simply Scout Finch is a six-year-old daughter of Mr. Atticus Finch, a lawyer living in the small American town. As we learn from reading the story, her nickname, Scout, has a lot to say about her personality. Despite Scout is only six, she is attentive and curious like… a scout, let’s say.
She is also very intelligent for her age, making logical conclusions and connecting the events in her mind in a proper way. Curiosity, intelligence and the innate feeling of right and wrong are clearly inherited from her father, Mr. Atticus, but the incredible naivete and lack of experience are her own. This trait causes lots of her quarrels with her older brother, Jem, who, while being the same kind of idealist, is almost a young adult man with all the load of social expectations placed on him.
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The dialogs between Jem and Scout, his cynical approach and her ideas, free of any social standards, shape a major part of the aesop of the novel. Throughout the story we see how the character of Scout Finch changes, how she matures and understands herself and the world around her better. The Tom Robinson case shatters her unconventional belief in humanity from the one hand, but strengthens her and forces her to rethink her attitude, still not being jaded, from the other.
At first, we see Scout as an iconic tomboy. Any problem can be solved with a good old fist fight. At the beginning of the novel we see her (and it’s a character defining moment) going after Walter Cunningham and kicking him for good on her first day at school. She isn’t crying and isn’t calling others names, she goes straight into fighting.
Sometimes it goes too far, for example when she walked with Jem and Dill, she started a fight with Dill for not paying her attention – a strange sign of affection, but that it’s what Scout is about. Another example, where bravery just outweighs the survival instinct is when Scout hits a member of a lynch mob that came for Tom (and does it rather successfully for a six-year-old!).
Even at the beginning of the story this tendency worries her father, Mr. Finch a lot. When Scout starts another fight, he talks to her, asking her (and Jem too) seek for the other solutions of their problems. Scout respects her father so much that she agrees and she makes herself to behave properly for three weeks (those who have kids or younger siblings can imagine what three weeks mean for a six-year-old: almost an eternity).
The challenge Scout faces is vividly described in her quote: “I drew a bead on him, remembered what Atticus had said, then dropped my fists and walked away, “Scout’s a cow- ward!” ringing in my ears. It was the first time I ever walked away from a fight. Somehow, if I fought Cecil I would let Atticus down. Atticus so rarely asked Jem and me to do something for him, I could take being called a coward for him. I felt extremely noble for having remembered, and remained noble for three weeks.”
We see here how much she cares about her father’s words – she is ready to sacrifice her dreadful reputation and even endure being called names. She finds another kind of higher nobility in avoiding the fights like it serves a greater goal.
These three weeks taught Scout a lot. Before she thought that every problem can be fixed very quickly and whoever hits harder is right. But after she has to search for other ways, Scout Finch starts to think about the real meaning of justice, diplomacy and superiority of intelligence over physical strength. Though, she still has a hair-trigger temper, she starts her way to mastering her emotions and thinking before acting. Finally, she agrees that there are lots of other variants of settling down the quarrels and they are sometimes better. Still she leaves herself some space for her favourite one, as we can see from her quote: “I would fight anyone from a third cousin upwards tooth and nail”.
As a tomboy, Scout faces obvious complications when she herself faces the social expectations. She, as a girl, is expected to be tender, gentle and love dolls and cooking and also she doesn’t have her mother around her to teach her femininity. When her aunt Alexandra comes to live with Mr. Finch for a while to compensate the lack of female role model for her, she pushes poor Scout too hard.
Aunt Alexandra starts from taking away all Scout’s pants and dressing her up in a girly way. Naturally, a pretty girl Jean Louise Finch finds it difficult to run, climb trees and kick people in a puffy skirt. She immediately rebels against her aunt, fighting for her freedom the pants embodied. She hated the stereotypical girly things (though they weren’t as bad as she saw it) and even described her living with Alexandra in vivid and desperate words: “I felt the starched walls of a pink cotton penitentiary closing in on me, and for the second time in my life I thought of running away”.
But later, when Tom Robinson case ends with Tom’s death, Scout sees the example of being a lady that isn’t connected with pink dresses and cooking. Despite her shock, aunt Alexandra manages to regain her composure and return to the tea party, not bursting into tears. This, and the example of her neighbor, Miss Maudie, who, despite her harsh behaviour is also called a lady by Mr. Finch, showed Scout that the real ladylike behaviour isn’t only about being pretty: it’s about willpower, strength and composure – the traits Scout Finch values as much as her father. This helps her to come to terms with her gender.
But the most important event for the development of Scout’s personality was the start of her relationship with Boo Radley. She thinks a lot about him, not even knowing who he is for real. She starts from being scared to no end by the horror stories told by Jem and Dill: “Every night-sound I heard from my cot on the back porch was magnified three-fold; every scratch of feet on gravel was Boo Radley seeking revenge, every passing Negro laughing in the night was Boo Radley loose and after us; insects splashing against the screen were Boo Radley’s insane fingers picking the wire to pieces; the chinaberry trees were malignant, hovering, alive.”
But as the story progresses, Scout finds herself thinking more about his real personality. When finally she sees the evil of the real people and observes the fate of poor Tom, Scout understands that Boo Radley isn’t a monster, at least not the one like the real evil people. When Boo saves her and Jem’s life, she finally realizes that some of her previous ideals and thoughts about the world were wrong. Thinking about Arthur Radley, Scout finds herself much more mature and responsible and discovers something new in herself.
Here is the quote from the ending part of the book that illustrates her thoughts: “Neighbors bring food with death and flowers with sickness and little things in between. Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good-luck pennies, and our lives. But neighbors give in return. We never put back into the tree what we took out of it: we had given him nothing, and it made me sad.”
Throughout the four years of her life described in the story, Scout grew up a lot. From the tomboy, ready to fight for everything and faithful for her ideals, she turns to the rebellious girl that tries to prove her ideals to the entire world, but suddenly realizes that the world has objections. Her beliefs in the black-and-white world with good neighbors and scary Boo Radley are shattered and subject to change several times.
She comes to terms with her gender after getting some positive examples of strong femininity from the two different women: rude and rough Miss Maudie and refined Aunt Alexandra. All the Tom Robinson case and the real personality of Ewell, ready to kill innocent children to have revenge on their father shows her that everyone in the world can be not the one they look like. The scary Boo Radley saves their lives from one of the most respected people in the town.
Surely, Scout Finch has a hard time wrapping her mind around everything that happened (most of adult people would have it too!), but as we can see from the final of the book, where the characters are comparing Arthur Radley to a mockingbird, we can understand that Jean Louise Finch has made the right conclusions from everything she endured.
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; 23rd 2006 by Harper Perennial Modern Classics (first published July 11th, 1960)