Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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Can you provide "coming of age" examples in To Kill A Mockingbird?

Quick answer:

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 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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What events lead to Scout's coming of age in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird?

In many ways, Scout's coming of age centers around her realization that Maycomb isn't the world of childhood fairy tales that she has believed it to be throughout her childhood.

In chapter 10, Scout realizes that her father isn't as "feeble" as she'd believed but instead is capable of protecting her with skills she has never realized he possesses. When Tim Johnson wanders down their road displaying signs of rabies, it is Atticus whom Heck Tate turns to in order to ensure the dog is killed in one shot without accidentally shooting into any neighboring houses. Atticus comes through, much to Scout's amazement.

In chapter 15, Scout realizes that her local townspeople harbor ugly feelings of hatred when she stumbles across a gang threatening her father, who sits by Tom Robinson's cell in order to protect him. She finds Mr. Cunningham in the crowd, a man whom her father has helped with legal matters and with whom Atticus shares a cordial relationship. It is Scout who alleviates the tension in the crowd, dispersing the group, but she realizes that otherwise good people can behave in ugly ways when influenced by the majority opinion.

In chapter 24, Scout watches her aunt react in horror to the news that Tom Robinson has died. She takes a moment to compose herself and then returns with grace to the group of women whom she is hosting, some of whom have made derogatory comments about the trial. Scout thus learns that being a lady requires reaching deep to react to tough situations with poise and treating people with grace even in tough situations.

In chapter 26, Scout realizes that her own democracy isn't as perfect as her teacher claims it to be. She is taught that it is wrong to persecute a group of people the way Hitler has done in Germany, but Scout goes home to reflect on this instruction and asks,

Jem, how can you hate Hitler so bad an' then turn around and be ugly about folks right at home...?

Because of Tom Robinson's trial, Scout has begun to see the flaws in her own democratic society.

Scout is greatly guided in these efforts of coming of age by the nurturing adults around her: Atticus, Miss Maudie, Calpurnia, and even Aunt Alexandra.

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What events lead to Scout's coming of age in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird?

There several significant scenes that lead to Scout's coming-of-age and moral development in the novel. One of the first moments takes place after she comes home from her rough first day of school. Atticus teaches Scout an important lesson on perspective and encourages her to view situations from other people's points of view. Scout's conversation with Miss Maudie gives her insight into why Boo Radley stays inside his home, and Atticus teaches his daughter the importance of exercising tolerance in chapter 9. Scout also witnesses what real courage is after watching Mrs. Dubose battle her chronic illness.

In chapter 12, Scout gains insight into the African American community of Maycomb by visiting Calpurnia's church and learns about mob mentality in chapter 16. The most significant moment that leads to Scout's coming of age takes places in chapter 21 when she witnesses racial injustice firsthand. After Scout witnesses Tom's wrongful conviction, she begins to mature and truly perceive Maycomb as a prejudiced, hypocritical community. In chapter 24, she notices Mrs. Merriweather's hypocrisy and analyzes Mr. Underwood's article about Tom's unfortunate death in chapter 25. Scout's coming-of-age is illustrated during her interaction with Boo Radley and by her comprehension of Sheriff Tate's decision to not reveal Boo's heroics to the community. By metaphorically applying Atticus's early lesson regarding why it is a sin to kill a mockingbird, Scout demonstrates her moral development and maturation.

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What events lead to Scout's coming of age in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird?

In Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, one major event that leads to Scout's coming of age is spending more time with Miss Maudie.

At the start of the story, Scout is very used to spending all of her time with her older brother Jem. However, when they meet Dill, Jem begins spending all of his time with Dill, leaving Scout excluded. As a remedy, Scout begins spending evenings with Miss Maudie on her front porch. Scout explains that, while she and Jem had "always enjoyed the free run of Miss Maudie's yard," they had never talked with Miss Maudie much, until that summer. Scout and Miss Maudie's conversations cover many topics, including the falseness of the rumors concerning their neighbor Arthur (Boo) Radley, the beliefs of foot-washing Baptists, and about what Atticus is like as a parent. Through these conversations, Scout begins to get a glimmer of what it is like to be an adult woman.

Aunt Alexandra's decision to move in with the Finches' is a second event that helps lead to Scout's coming of age. Aunt Alexandra explains to Scout that she and Scout's father had decided the two Finch children could use "feminine influence" as they continue to grow up:

We decided it would be best for you to have some feminine influence. It won't be many years, Jean Louise, before you become interested in clothes and boys-- (Ch. 13)

Though Scout generally dislikes her aunt, doesn't understand all of the things her aunt does that are said to be ladylike, and objects to the idea of becoming a lady, Scout does eventually learn to understand and value what it is to be a lady, which is a central aspect of her coming of age. Scout particularly begins to understand what it is to be a lady the day her aunt entertains her missionary circle, the same day Atticus comes home with the news of Tom Robinson's death. She witnesses her aunt and Miss Maudie put on brave, smiling faces to continue entertaining their guests, despite the adversity, which helps Scout to see that being a lady is truly about being brave and treating others respectfully, even in times of trouble.

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In To Kill a Mockingbird, what are some coming of age experiences for Scout?

Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird covers about three years of Scout's young life starting at age 6. Coming-of-age stories (a bildungsroman) chronicle how a character journeys from innocence to maturity through specific experiences. First, Scout needs to learn not to fight everyone who provokes her. Next, she needs to become more of a lady by wearing dresses more often and behaving properly while in one. Finally, Scout loses a little bit of her innocence as she becomes more aware of adult situations such as rape and racism. By accomplishing these tasks, or by going through difficult situations, Scout successfully matures and comes-of-age.

On the first day of school, Scout is easily prone to pick fights or to defend herself verbally and physically. She gets into altercations with Walter Cunningham, Cecil Jacobs, and her cousin Francis. Atticus gives her advice to help her overcome her knee-jerk reactions to what people say or do:

"First of all, . . . if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. 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" (30).

This advice seems to help, but Scout still needs time to conform to it through daily practice. It's not easy for a little girl to hear that her dad is a "n****r lover" by kids who don't know what those words even mean. So not only must she learn not to react, but she learns that people can be racist and rude without provocation. The turning point for Scout's fighting days is after she fights with Francis at Christmas and Uncle Jack spanks her. She overhears her father say to Jack that he knows she's trying to do better and just to be more patient.

Then, the other issue to confront is the tomboy one. Scout runs around in overalls much of the summer and her Aunt thinks she should be more of a lady by wearing dresses. At one point, Scout tells Aunt Alexandra that she can't do anything in a dress; but, her aunt tells her that she shouldn't be doing anything that needs wearing pants. It isn't until after the Tom Robinson trial that Scout wears a dress to one of Aunt Alexandra's tea parties--something she never would have done earlier on.

"Aunt Alexandra looked across the room at me and smiled. . . I carefully picked up the tray and watched myself walk to Mrs. Merriweather. With my best company manners, I asked her if she would have some. After all, if Aunty could be a lady at a time like this, so could I" (237).

This passage above shows Scout conforming to parts of life that require dresses, but she continues to wear pants to play outside. She realizes that there's a time and place for everything.

Finally, the Tom Robinson case affected the whole Finch family, as well as the town, that there was no way for Scout to escape hearing the word rape. She first asks Calpurnia what it means, but Cal refers her to her father with that question. However, once she does ask, Atticus gives her a legal definition full of jargon that Scout won't understand. It isn't really until Scout hears the testimonies at the trial that she comes up with her own definition of rape:

". . . it wasn't rape if she let you, but she had to be eighteen--in Alabama, that is-- and Mayella was nineteen. Apparently you had to kick and holler, you had to be overpowered and stomped on, preferably knocked stone cold. If you were under eighteen, you didn't have to go through all this" (209).

This definition is based on what Scout hears at the trial and isn't explicit enough for her to really understand. Through it all, though, so many racist and discriminatory things are said and done that she sees her brother Jem lose faith in humanity. Scout is still a little too young to understand it all, but she knows that rape is bad enough to send a black man to jail for it, whether he did it or not.

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What are some examples of literary elements being used to convey coming-of-age moments in To Kill a Mockingbird?

One literary element that conveys Scout's maturing outlook is Harper Lee's use of diction, or word choice. As Scout grows up and learns more about the world around her, she chooses her words more thoughtfully, both when she is speaking to other characters and when she is reflecting on lessons she has learned from Atticus, Miss Maudie, and even Miss Caroline.

Scout's deepening insight into human nature and her own growing self-awareness are both signs of her maturing process, and both can be observed in statements such as this:

I went away, not sure that I could explain to Atticus what was on my mind, not sure that I could clarify what was only a feeling. Perhaps Jem could provide the answer. (Chapter 26)

In this quote, Scout pauses her conversation with Atticus about Adolf Hitler, realizing that she may not yet have the right words to express herself. Additionally, she understands that she may need help from her brother to carry on the discussion without being misunderstood. Scout is coming of age during a time of significant turmoil, and her thoughtfulness at this age may be a result of having to face such dark issues at such a young age.

Harper Lee also employs metaphor to convey Scout's maturing process. Toward the end of the novel, when Jem is resting after the attack in the woods, Boo Radley makes an appearance. Atticus suggests everyone go out to the porch to talk, and Scout reacts to this idea in this way:

I wondered why Atticus was inviting us to the front porch instead of the livingroom, then I understood. The livingroom lights were awfully strong. (Chapter 30)

In this passage, Scout realizes that Atticus is doing what he can to ensure that Boo Radley feels comfortable. Bright lights might make him feel over-exposed and vulnerable, and Scout is able to make the connection herself. Metaphorically speaking, Scout finds this moment illuminating; she becomes aware of someone else's needs as a human being, much like the soft porch light reveals that Boo Radley is actually a real person, not just a mythical character of Scout's childhood games.

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What are some examples of literary elements being used to convey coming-of-age moments in To Kill a Mockingbird?

In her bildungsroman, Harper Lee employs literary elements in order to better convey significant moments that describe Jem and Scout's maturation. Here are examples of the use of certain literary techniques:

  • In Chapter 3, after Scout pleads with her father to allow her to stay home rather than to attend school, Atticus tells her that she should try to understand her new teacher, who is unfamiliar with Maycomb and its residents. The figure of speech of climbing into another's skin—feeling like that other person—helps Scout to reach an understanding of her teacher:

"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."

Later, in Chapter 7, Scout uses this figure of speech as she tries to understand Jem's feelings while he attempted to retrieve his pants from the Radley yard earlier: "I tried to climb into Jem's skin and walk around in it."

  • In Chapter 5, Miss Maudie describes the Radley home as "a sad house," using personification in order to convey the mood of the home and the isolation of the occupants such as Boo Radley.
  • In Chapter 6, after Jem gets his pants caught on the Radley fence and must climb out of them in order to escape when Nathan Radley steps out with his shotgun, he later sneaks off the back porch where he and Scout sleep. He wants to retrieve his pants so that he will not be caught in his deception. As he returns to the porch, Scout imagines what is happening as Lee employs personification:

"...Boo Radley's insane fingers picking the wire to pieces; the china berry trees were malignant, hovering, alive."

  • In Chapter 10, Atticus gives the children air rifles for Christmas, but he cautions them to be careful with them. He tells his children that he knows they will take aim at birds, but they should never shoot mockingbirds because they just "sing their hearts out for us" and do no harm.

"Shoot at the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."

This makes an impression upon Scout and Jem, and the mockingbird becomes a key metaphor and motif in Scout's narrative. Later, Scout recalls how Mr. Underwood uses the figurative mockingbird when he refers to the killing of Tom Robinson:

Mr. Underwood simply figured it was a sin to kill cripples.... He likened Tom's death to the senseless slaughter of songbirds [mockingbirds] by hunters and children....

  • In Chapter 25, metaphor (unstated comparison) is used as Mr. Underwood has written an editorial in which he alludes to the "secret courts of men's hearts" in which Atticus had no case. "Tom was a dead man the minute Mayella Ewell opened her mouth and screamed."
  • In Chapter 30, the motif of the mockingbird is again used, this time by Scout. When Mr. Tate and Atticus debate what to do about the death of Bob Ewell, the sheriff says that Boo should be left alone and not arrested. "Well, it'd be sort of like shootin' a mockingbird, wouldn't it?" Scout remarks when Atticus asks her what she thinks.

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