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.