How do Scout and Jem lose their innocence in the novel "To Kill a Mockingbird"?

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jem and Scout both lose their childhood innocence after witnessing Tom Robinson become a victim of racial injustice when he is wrongly convicted of assaulting and raping Mayella Ewell. During the trial, Jem believes that there is no way that Atticus can lose the case. While Jem takes into consideration the fact that there is no circumstantial evidence and factors in the Ewells' conflicting testimonies, he fails to consider the jury's racial bias.

In chapter 21, Judge Taylor reads the guilty verdict and Jem bursts into tears. Jem repeatedly says, "It ain’t right" to his father on their walk home and is visibly upset at the outcome of the trial (Lee, 215). Following his loss of innocence, Jem becomes jaded towards his prejudiced hometown and tells Miss Maudie,

"It’s like bein‘ a caterpillar in a cocoon, that’s what it is...Like somethin’ asleep wrapped up in a warm place. I always thought Maycomb folks were the best folks in the world, least that’s what they seemed like" (Lee, 219).

In contrast to Jem's negative reaction to losing his childhood innocence, Scout does not become jaded and begins to perceive her community in a different light. Following the trial, Scout develops perspective and begins to notice the hypocrisy and racism throughout Maycomb for the first time. Overall, both siblings lose their childhood innocence after witnessing racial injustice firsthand, which dramatically alters their perception of Maycomb's community.

litchick2011 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The most important theme of Harper Lee's novel is the exploration of human nature - both the good and bad.  Through the eyes of Scout, the reader is able to see the world of Maycomb through the eyes of an innocent child.  At the beginning of the novel, both Jem and Scout see the world from this childhood perspective because neither have seen evil, so they believe that people are essentially good.  The miscarriage of justice in the case of Tom Robinson’s trial and the subsequent racial backlash towards the Finch family are some of the first moments in which Jem and Scout are introduced to a very different and cruel Maycomb.  The ultimate act of evil that Jem and Scout face is their brutal attack at the hands of Bob Ewell.  For these two children, realizing that an adult could hurt a child is most surprising. It is interesting to note that while Jem becomes ultimately disillusioned with the state of affairs in Maycomb, Scout retains her basic faith in the good of people, telling Jem one evening that “No…I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks” (Chapter 23).


engtchr5 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

TKAM is a "coming of age" story, meaning that in its pages, the main character reaches a point of understanding or maturity. In this case, Scout and Jem come to an understanding of society's darker side.

Because they become exposed to the goings-on surrounding Tom Robinson's trial and the racially-motivated conflicts that ensue as a result, both characters are forced to learn very adult lessons.

What's more, when the children are attacked by Bob Ewell, Scout loses the perception that all adults are kind and competent toward children. The idea that an adult would attack a child shatters some of her naivete as she learns this lesson.

In the end, Scout and Jem have both made many "real-world" realizations, and this is what causes their loss of childlike innocence in the novel.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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