Atticus had promised me he would wear me out if he ever heard of me fighting any more; I was far too old and too big for such childish things, and the sooner I learned to hold in, the better off everybody would be. (9.1)
Is it just us, or is there a big dose of hypocrisy here? (1) Atticus doesn't want Scout fighting, but he promises to "wear her out," i.e. physically punish her in some way; (2) he wants her to keep it in, but he also wants her to be honest. Being a kid sure is confusing.
"When a child asks you something, answer him, for goodness' sake. But don't make a production of it. Children are children, but they can spot an evasion quicker than adults, and evasion simply muddles 'em." (9.175)
Atticus recognizes that his kids are different from adults, but he respects his children—which means no lying to them or avoiding hard truths. Does this mean no Santa Claus for the Finch kids?
When we were small, Jem and I confined our activities to the southern neighborhood, but when I was well into the second grade at school and tormenting Boo Radley became passé, the business section of Maycomb drew us frequently up the street past the real property of Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose. It was impossible to go to town without passing her house unless we wished to walk a mile out of the way. Previous minor encounters with her left me with no desire for more, but Jem said I had to grow up some time. (11.1)
Growing up is great. You get your driver's license, a later curfew, and then you get to go off to college and eat pizza whenever you want. And then you start your first job, and you realize that you can't afford to eat out all the time and you can't skip your job if you're up late watching a Real Housewives marathon. Turn out, growing up means that you have to face unpleasant things instead of avoiding them—and you can't actually do what you want all the time.
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?"
Beneath its sweat-streaked dirt Dill's face went white. I felt sick. […]
Jem was standing in a corner of the room, looking like the traitor he was. "Dill, I had to tell him," he said. "You can't run three hundred miles off without your mother knowin'."
We left him without a word. (14.79-91)
Jem really is growing up—he puts adult notions of what's right (tell your parents before you decide to run off to a different county) before child ones (don't tattle on your friends). Is there a particular reason for Jem's change, or is it just part of getting older?
Jean Louise Finch (Scout)
I raised up on my elbow, facing Dill's outline. "It's no reason to run off. They don't get around to doin' what they say they're gonna do half the time...." (14.109)
While kids get a bum rap for having short attention spans, it's adults who can't be trusted to follow through from the child perspective. But has Scout shared anything from her own experience that supports this view, or is she just sympathizing with Dill?
"There has been a request," Judge Taylor said, "that this courtroom be cleared of spectators, or at least of women and children, a request that will be denied for the time being. People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for, and they have the right to subject their children to it, but I can assure you of one thing: you will receive what you see and hear in silence or you will leave this courtroom, but you won't leave it until the whole boiling of you come before me on contempt charges. (17.97)
Women are here put in the same category with children as beings in need of protection, whose delicate ears should be shielded from sordid reality. What? You say that rape is something women have to worry about experiencing more than men? Pshaw. They still shouldn't be allowed to hear about it.
"I don't know, but they did it. They've done it before and they did it tonight and they'll do it again and when they do it—seems that only children weep. Good night." (22.14-17)
Is it "children" who are weeping, or only Jem, Scout, and Dill? Is it simply being children that causes them to be sad about Tom's fate, or are there other factors? We doubt Cousin Francis is losing any sleep about it.
Jean Louise Finch (Scout)
But why had he entrusted us with his deepest secret? I asked him why.
"Because you're children and you can understand it," he said, "and because I heard that one-"
He jerked his head at Dill: "Things haven't caught up with that one's instinct yet. Let him get a little older and he won't get sick and cry. Maybe things'll strike him as being—not quite right, say, but he won't cry, not when he gets a few years on him." (20.18-22)
Growing up means going from weeping uncontrollably at displays of injustice, to feeling a vague sense that things aren't quite right. The good: it's hard to get through the day if you're weeping uncontrollably. The bad: vague feelings aren't usually enough to make anything change. Is there a way to keep the sharp sense of injustice without needing to carrying a hankie everywhere?
"Don't talk like that, Dill," said Aunt Alexandra. "It's not becoming to a child. It's—cynical."
"I ain't cynical, Miss Alexandra. Tellin' the truth's not cynical, is it?"
"The way you tell it, it is." (22.32-34)
Aunt Alexandra has an idea of what childlike behavior is (sweet and innocent, the Olsen twins before they hit puberty) and expects Dill to conform to that. But maybe this idea of childhood isn't entirely natural—it's just what adults expect children to be like.
The adults in Maycomb never discussed the case with Jem and me; it seemed that they discussed it with their children, and their attitude must have been that neither of us could help having Atticus for a parent, so their children must be nice to us in spite of him. The children would never have thought that up for themselves: had our classmates been left to their own devices, Jem and I would have had several swift, satisfying fist-fights apiece and ended the matter for good. As it was, we were compelled to hold our heads high and be, respectively, a gentleman and a lady. (26.10)
Faced with an adult conflict, the children are forced to act like adults. It may be less violent than the kid's method of fighting it out, bottling up those emotions means that they fester more than they would otherwise. Would matters have calmed down faster in Maycomb if, instead of a trial, there had been a celebrity death match between the two sides?