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Compare the theme of loss of innocence in To Kill a Mockingbird and Romeo and Juliet.

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In both works, naive, young characters lose their innocence after experiencing traumatic events, which affects their perception of their respected societies. The characters of Romeo, Juliet, and the Finch children are portrayed as naive, young individuals, who do not fully comprehend different aspects of their society and develop perspective from their various experiences. Romeo and Juliet have naive ideas regarding the concept of love, the consequences of concealing their relationship, and the seriousness of their family feud. Similarly, Jem and Scout have naive ideas regarding the justice system and do not initially understand the harmful effects of racial prejudice.

Despite the similarities between Romeo, Juliet, and the Finch children, the characters in both works experience and respond to their loss of innocence differently. Romeo and Juliet experience their loss of innocence after the deaths of Tybalt and Mercutio. Social institutions prevent them from being a happily married couple and Romeo is forced to flee Verona. Rather than accept society's laws and restrictions, Romeo and Juliet challenge Verona's social institutions by attempting to outsmart their families and authority figures. Tragically, Romeo and Juliet do not learn from their impulsive decisions and commit suicide.

In contrast, Jem and Scout lose their innocence after witnessing racial injustice firsthand. Following Tom's wrongful conviction, Jem becomes jaded with Maycomb's prejudiced society and Scout gains perspective into her racist community. Both children recognize their neighbors' hypocritical nature and develop sympathy for innocent, defenseless individuals like Tom Robinson and Boo Radley. Rather than challenge their society's institutions and become blinded by their passionate feelings like Romeo and Juliet, the Finch children recognize their community's flaws and exercise their increased perspective on life.

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Probably the best way to approach this essay is to make a brainstormed list comparing and contrasting one protagonist of each novel.  From To Kill a Mockingbird it would be easiest to choose either Scout or Jem, and from "Romeo and Juliet" the most obvious choice is between Romeo and Juliet.  In fact, if I were writing the essay, I'd probably even go so far as to either look at the two female protagonists or the two male protagonists, as that is going to be a more "equal" comparison.

When you look at how each character "loses" his or her innocence in each story, you will find that the circumstances are very different.  Scout and Jem are exposed to prejudice, racism, and lessons in injustice and hypocrisy at very young ages.  On the whole, these two children remain very close to their father and can credit much of what they learn directly to Atticus.  On the other hand, Romeo and Juliet lose their innocence by rebelling against their parents and families, and making all choices on their own.  However, prejudice and injustice is also involved. They learn lessons in love and loss, and of course, ultimately lose their own lives.  The "contrast" part of your essay could easily be focused on the difference in the circumstances for each character.

When it comes to finding similarities between the stories in this theme, you should look at the outcome of "loss of innocence" for each character.  Though arguably none end in a similar place, it could also be argued that they gain or develop similar attributes.  For example, it could be said that both Scout and Juliet eventually come to a place of confidence in themselves, where others opinions no longer seem to matter.

In order to get started, I encourage you to brainstorm several answers to the following questions for your selected (2) characters:

  1. What circumstances, choices, and attitudes affect this character's loss of innocence?
  2. What happens to this character as a result of losing his/her innocence?  Consider again, the change in circumstances, choices, and attitudes.

I think you will find that between these two questions, you'll have more than enough material from which to create a thesis and well organized outline.

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