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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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What quotes in To Kill a Mockingbird support the theme of growing up and the author's purpose?

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Harper Lee's novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, has as its purpose to be a bildungsroman; that is, it is a narrative that demonstrates a growing maturity in the main characters. While the focus is on the maturation of Scout, there are incidences in which Jem exhibits signs of maturing, as well.

  • In Chapter 10 Jem informs Calpurnia that Tim Johnson, a liver-colored bird dog, is staggering down the street. After telephoning Mr. Finch's office, Calpurnia runs outside to warn the neighbors of the mad dog. Soon, Atticus and Sheriff Tate arrive with a rifle, but the sheriff defers to Atticus, who is the better shot; Atticus is able to shoot the dog, preventing it from biting anyone. Earlier in the same chapter Jem and Scout have perceived Atticus as unlike other fathers since he so old that he wears glasses and he chooses not to go hunting or play poker or smoke. Now, however, Jem understands that all this time it was not because he could not shoot well that Atticus does not hunt. He simply chooses not to kill animals because he has an unfair advantage. With new admiration and a certain maturity, Jem says, "Atticus is a gentleman, just like me!"
  • During the trial of Tom Robinson, Scout displays an acumen beyond her years with some of her observations. Especially insightful for one so young are Scout's remarks about Mayella. As she listens to Mayella Ewell testify, Scout determines that Mayella is rather "stealthy" in giving her testimony, "like a steady-eyed cat with a twitchy tail."
  • Further in the trial as Mayella responds to Atticus's questions, Scout "began to see the pattern" as her father strives to establish the kind of people that they are. Clearly, Scout's perceptive mind is more mature than that of others her age.
  • In Chapter 31, Scout's perspective of her neighbors and the neighborhood has matured. When she stands on the Radley porch after having walked Boo home, a reflective Scout looks around and finally observes, "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."

Scout's new maturity brings with it a new insight.

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There are many examples of "growing up" to be found in To Kill a Mockingbird. Like many youngsters, Scout wants to grow up fast: She sees Jem getting physically bigger and more distant, leaving her behind. And then there is Scout's romance with her "permanent fiance," Dill. They share forbidden kisses and even an innocent night in Scout's bed, but Dill is away at school when Scout needs him most on Halloween night. The Halloween attack by Bob Ewell seems to serve as a dividing line for Jem's and Scout's leap from childhood into the adult world. Despite the visual restrictions of her ham costume, Scout bears witness to a lot that night: Bob's attack, Jem's injury, the appearance of a mysterious stranger, Bob's death, and finally, seeing Boo Radley in the flesh. It was a lot to take in: She decided that Sheriff Tate's action to falsely call Bob's death self-inflicted was a proper one in order to maintain Boo's privacy, and she would be able to brag to Jem the next morning about meeting Boo. But Scout's new mature outlook still comes from a child's eyes. She thought she had seen it all, and

As I made my way home, I thought Jem and I would get grown but there wasn't much else left for us to learn, except possibly algebra.  (Chapter 31)

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