What are some examples of "coming of age" in To Kill A Mockingbird?

The Finch children come of age over the course of the novel. They learn life lessons through their father, Atticus, as well as through experiences in their town. Scout learns from her father to consider others' points of view, and she comes to see Boo as a kind-hearted person who is just different. From the Tom Robinson trial, Jem and Scout learn about racial prejudice, and they come to see the true nature of Maycomb.

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One way that Harper Lee illustrates Jem's and Scout's coming of age is through their developing perception of Boo Radley . At the beginning of the story, Scout views Boo as a "malevolent phantom," and Jem believes that he is a menacing creature who eats raw animals and...

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One way that Harper Lee illustrates Jem's and Scout's coming of age is through their developing perception of Boo Radley. At the beginning of the story, Scout views Boo as a "malevolent phantom," and Jem believes that he is a menacing creature who eats raw animals and is covered in blood. As the novel progresses, Jem discovers that Boo mended and folded his pants and that Boo has been giving them small gifts in the knothole of the Radley tree. After Jem discovers that the knothole has been filled in with cement, he cries on the front porch at the lost opportunity to create a friendship with Boo.

Jem's ability to perceive Boo as a compassionate, kind neighbor illustrates his maturation. Toward the end of the story, Scout also demonstrates her coming of age by viewing Boo in a new light. She tells Jem:

Boo doesn’t mean anybody any harm, but I’m right glad you’re along (Lee 135)

Scout sympathizes with her neighbor and understands that he is a harmless, reclusive man. After Boo saves her life from Bob Ewell's vicious attack, Scout walks Boo home and says:

Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good-luck pennies, and our lives (Lee 148)

Harper Lee also depicts the coming-of-age theme through Scout's understanding of justice and her ability to comprehend and apply Atticus's life lessons. In chapter 10, Atticus tells the children that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird. Miss Maudie elaborates on Atticus’s comment by saying,

Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird (Lee 49)

Later in the story, Scout and Jem lose their childhood innocence after witnessing racial injustice firsthand during the Tom Robinson trial. Following the trial, Scout begins to display her maturation and moral development by recognizing hypocrisy and viewing innocent, vulnerable individuals as symbolic mockingbirds. She even understands the concept of Mr. Underwood’s editorial regarding Tom’s fate and realizes that the jury’s prejudice was solely responsible for Tom’s wrongful conviction.

After Boo Radley saves her life during Bob Ewell’s attack, she overhears Sheriff Tate explaining why he will not inform the community of Boo's heroics—in order to protect him from the public limelight. When Atticus asks Scout if she understands Tate's reasoning, Scout displays her maturation by metaphorically applying Atticus's earlier lesson regarding mockingbirds. Scout asks her father:

Well, it’d be sort of like shootin‘ a mockingbird, wouldn’t it? (Lee 147)

Scout displays her coming of age and moral development by no longer fearing Boo Radley, by exercising perspective, by understanding the concept of justice, and by applying her father's life lessons.

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As a bildungsroman, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is replete with "coming-of-age" episodes:

  • In Chapter 3, after Scout is reprimanded on her first day at school for knowing how to read, and for her attempts to assist Miss Caroline by explaining who Walter Cunningham is and that she has shamed him.  Atticus tells his daughter,

"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view--...until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."

  • In the early chapters of the novel, the children are curious about Boo Radley and attempt to make contact with him despite their father's exhortations to leave Boo alone. Much later in the narrative, Scout and Jem are attacked by Bob Ewell and defended by Boo Radley. At this point, Scout certainly realizes that Boo is a person with a kind heart who is just different. As she stands on the Radley porch, Scout acknowledges her father's lesson,

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.

  • After Jem tears the blooms from Mrs. Dubose's camellias in his anger over the woman's defamation of his character, Atticus charitably punishes Jem for his outrage, making his son read to the ailing woman each day after school for a month. At the end of the month, Atticus informs Jem that Mrs. Dubose had withdrawn herself courageously from morphine before she died.  He tells Jem,

"I wanted you to see something about her--I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand."

  • In the second part of the novel, Jem and Scout certainly learn of racial prejudice as Tom Robinson is unjustly accused and charged with physical assault upon Mayella Ewell.  Outside the courthouse, Dill becomes sick and cries; he is upset that Mr. Gilmer has interrogated Tom in the hostile manner that he has. Having observed Dill, Mr. Dolphus Raymond observes from behind a tree,

"Things haven't caught up with that one's instinct yet...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.....

"Cry about the simple hell people give other people--without even thinking. Cry about the hell white people give colored folks, without even stopping to think that they're people, too."

  • After the trial, Bob Ewell, who feels he has been publicly humiliated in court, spits in Atticus's face and tells Atticus that he will "get him". Of course, the children are worried and think that Atticus should do something about Ewell.  Instead, he patiently tells them,

...if you can stand in Bob Ewell's shoes a minute, I destroyed his last shred of credibility at that trial, if he had any to begin with.  The man had to have some kind of comeback, his kind always does....He had to take it out on somebody....You understand?

  • In discussing the Robinson trial, Atticus explains that in the jury

"something came between them and reason....People have a way of carrying their resentments right into a jury box....whenever a white man cheats a black man....that white man is trash."

"...Don't fool yourselves--it's all adding up and one of these days we're going to pay the bill for it.  I hope it's not in you children's time."

Certainly, the children have learned much about life and the people in it after their personal experiences and after having witnessed the trial of Tom Robinson.


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