Regarding the theme of initiation:  How can you describe the initiation of Jem and Scout in the novel?To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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With the majority of criticism designating To Kill a Mockingbird as a novel of initiation and an indictment of racism,the adult narrator Scout reflects upon the childhood experiences of herself and her brother Jem as two characters especially figure into the children's initiation: the two "mockingbirds," Boo Radley and Tom Robinson. For, Boo changes the children's perception and experience from a "malevolent phantom" to a loving, caring neighbor who is misunderstood.  The other mockingbird, Tom Robinson moves in the children's perception from being "just a Negro" to the innocent man who is a victim of Maycomb's "usual disease," racial prejudice. While Tom is on trial, he is unjustly accused and subjected to cruel questioning on the witness stand.  Then, as he is found quilty, although the testimony against him is false, Tom feels doomed, and kills himself.

The moments of realization about the two mockingbirds that initiate the maturation of the children come at different points for Jem and his sister Scout.  For Scout, the moment of initiation into an adult perspective on Boo Radley comes at the end of Chapter 14.  There, as Scout listens to Dill recount his mother's lack of attention to him and why he runs off, she realizes that the lonely Boo Radley does not run off because "[M]aybe he doesn't have anywhere to run off to." In Chapter 31, too, as Scout stands on Boo's porch she comprehends the lesson of "standing in another's shoes" that her father has taught her: 

Atticus was right.  One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.  Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.

Regarding Tom Robinson, the other mockingbird, Jem is initiated into the adult world sooner than Scout. Rational and analytical, with angry tears washing his eyes, Jem asks his father in Chapter 22 how the jury could convict Tom after the trial:  "How could they do it.  How could they?" For Scout, the moment of awareness comes in Chapter 24 as, after listening to the hypocritical Mrs. Merriweather, she wishes that she could have a day as the Governor of Alabama:

"I'd let Tom Robinson go so quick the Missionary Society would not have enough time to be idle."

For Jem and Scout, their personal experiences with Boo Radley and Tom Robinson, the two mockingbirds, effect their initiations into adulthood as their perceptions turn outward into the world away from their childish inwardness. 




We see the results of Atticus's words and behavior in the older Jean Louise, who becomes a compassionate yet not uncritical member of her community, both local and national.


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