From the first part of To Kill a Mockingbird, how is theme of coming of age depicted? How are the themes of loss of innocence and the gain of experience connected to it?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One way in which Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird depicts the coming of age theme is to show the world through Scout's eyes.  Scout possesses a voice of individual reason, one that shuns the inauthenticity that often accompanies hypocritical conformity.  She shows the coming of age theme in how she does not understand the negativity that the townspeople show towards Atticus in defending Tom Robinson.  Derogatory terms and epithets are reflective of the realities that Scout fails to understand.  Her lack of understanding about the cruelty around her and regarding the intolerant attitudes of others shows how the coming of age theme is a significant part of the novel.  At the same time, Scout demonstrates a coming of age in her understanding regarding Boo Radley. At first, Scout embodies the same principles as the rest of the town in terms of being a part of the gossip machinery regarding Boo, accepting what Atticus says is how people "are made into ghosts."  Scout voices this reality when she initially absorbs the town's perception of the Radley home:  "The Radley Place was inhabited by an unknown entity the mere description of whom was enough to make us behave for days on end..."  Yet, she comes of age when she recognizes that Boo is no different than any other human being, and is akin to the mockingbird that should never be killed.  It is through this understanding that emerges in the first part of the novel through her questioning and sense of skepticism about the world around her that Scout embodies the coming of age theme.

Scout comes of age as the novel advances.  The first part of it is spent with her formulating questions and developing an understanding that doubts social construction in terms of race, class, gender, and fairness issues.  Her questioning of these socially accepted values helps to form a type of loss of innocence. For example, Scout recognizes that social constructions of gender do impact her, something that becomes evident in her relationship with Jem in the early part of the book.  When Scout says, "It was then, I suppose, that Jem and I first began to part company," it reflects a loss of innocence.  Scout recognizes that the world does see her differently and the experience comes with understanding the need to not internalize this condition within her own sense of identity.  

Another aspect of the loss of innocence that is seen in the novel is when Scout recognizes the futility of her fighting.  For Scout, fighting was the way in which she authentically acted when her own subjectivity collided with the reality of the world around her.  Scout's experience causes her to have to reject fighting for fear of Atticus.  In the early part of the novel, her foregoing of fighting is a reflection of how Scout gains experience in doing what needs to be done:  "My fists were clenched, and I was ready to let fly. Atticus had promised 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. I soon forgot.”  In this understanding, Scout displays a loss of her innocence in rejecting the fighting that was once such a part of her character.  She embraces the experience of having to face consequences for her action, and while there is maturity in such a revelation, there an experience that supplants innocence. 

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