In To Kill a Mockingbird, in what ways is Jem coming of age?

Jem is coming of age in To Kill A Mockingbird by entering adolescence and developing a more mature view of the world. This causes him to pull away from Scout and to react with deep disillusionment and anger to the guilty verdict of Tom Robinson's trial.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

As an adolescent, Jem matures and demonstrates his coming of age by losing his childlike naivety, acting responsibly, and exercising perspective.

In part 2, Jem reaches puberty, and Scout comments on his increasing appetite, moody personality, and "inconsistent" attitude. As Jem gets older, he begins to act more responsible and exercise sympathy for others. He stops bothering Boo Radley, informs Atticus that Dill ran away, and tries to comfort Scout when she feels upset. Jem also refuses to leave his father's side in front of the Maycomb jailhouse when they are surrounded by a lynch mob. He recognizes the gravity of the situation and displays his maturity by defying his father's request to leave. Following the incident, Atticus appreciates his son's courage and integrity in the face of adversity.

Once Jem observes racial injustice firsthand by witnessing the Tom Robinson verdict, he completely loses his childhood innocence and becomes jaded with his racist neighbors. Jem thus demonstrates his coming of age by recognizing the hypocrisy throughout his community and acknowledging the dangers of racial prejudice.

In addition to Jem's enhanced outlook on his hometown, he also develops sympathy and transforms into a compassionate, understanding older brother. He goes out of his way to prevent Scout from arguing with her aunt, engages in an insightful conversation regarding Maycomb's social hierarchy, and comforts his sister following her embarrassing pageant incident. Scout even praises Jem for acting mature and sympathetic by saying, "Jem was becoming almost as good as Atticus at making you feel right when things went wrong."

Overall, Jem demonstrates his coming of age by reaching puberty, developing perspective, and exercising responsibility and compassion.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Jem enters adolescence during the course of the novel, an entry that coincides with the Tom Robinson trial. Adolescence is a time when young people begin to perceive adults in less idealistic terms, to question adult values, and to experiment with their own adult identities.

Atticus and Calpurnia warn Scout that Jem might start becoming difficult and pulling away from her. This does happen, and Scout has to deal with Jem suddenly treating her as a "child," with himself in the role of adult. The trial, because of how he himself is changing, makes a deep impact on Jem. He is angry and disillusioned that the white jury returns a guilty verdict despite Atticus clearly demonstrating that Robinson could not have raped Mayella. He is disillusioned, too, that the white adults in Maycomb he looked up to as a child who by and large support the racist verdict.

Jem copes with his new awareness of adult limitations by withdrawing. He reacts very harshly to Scout when she questions him about why her fifth grade teacher condemns Hitler's anti-Semitism while at the same time approving the racist verdict in the trial. Jem shakes her and tells her never to talk to him about the trial again. Jem's reaction hurts Scout's feelings, and she goes to Atticus to try to understand. He explains that

Jem was trying hard to forget something, but what he was really doing was storing it away for a while, until enough time passed. Then he would be able to think about it and sort things out.

Atticus says that when Jem gets through the period of adjusting to adolescence, he will be himself again.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In chapter 23, there is a passage where Scout notices that Jem is changing in appearances lately.  She notices that

"his eyebrows were becoming heavier, and...a new slimness about his body.  He was growing taller."

Then, Jem proudly shows Scout his first chest hair, and tells her that he's "goin' out for football next year" also.  So, there are the physical changes that are mentioned in that chapter.  He is hitting a growth spurt, and starting the track to becoming more of a man in appearances.

Other ways that Jem "comes of age" throughout the novel are that he understands intricate human situations, like how his dad doesn't want to brag about being a good shot, and how, even though it upsets him, people can make the wrong decisions out of fear.  He is processing the world and figuring things out for himself.  He even analyzes people in Maycomb, and figures out that what separates people from each other is how long they've "been readin' and writin'", and concludes with some wisdom:

"I think I'm beginning to understand why Boo Radley's stayed shut up in the house all this time...it's because he wants to stay inside."

Jem has figured out that the world isn't an ideal place where everything fits nicely; he is losing that childhood naivety where kids think everything is happy and perfect.  He is coming of age in the sense that he is developing a more realistic view of people and the world around him.  I hope that those thoughts help; good luck!

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial