The Loss of Innocence and Maturity in To Kill A Mockingbird
Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird details the life and experiences of two children in a small town of Alabama. It describes how a series of events shakes their innocence, shaping their character and teaching them about human nature. In her novel, Lee demonstrates how these children learn about the essentiality of good and evil and the existence of injustice and racism in the Deep South during the 1930s. She describes the conscience and the loss of innocence that the two children experience and also details their individual development to maturity. Jem Finch, one of the children in the story, realizes the unfairness that exists around him and loses his faith in humanity as he makes the transition of child to man. On the other hand, the protagonist and narrator of the story, Scout Finch, becomes aware of her social roles and expectations in society while also learning about the good that exists within certain individuals. As the story unfolds, both of these characters display signs of maturity and awareness of their surroundings. Jem is one of the characters that exhibits instances of change throughout the story. Although a well-educated and well-mannered son, Jem proves to be an innocent character at the beginning of the novel. This innocence is destroyed, however, as Jem starts to grow into a young man. One example that portrays such transition is presented in Chapter 10 as he alters his view of Atticus, his father. The beginning of this chapter indicates Jem’s perception of Atticus and it describes how Jem, as well as Scout, think of their father as a man who does not do “anything that could possibly arouse the admiration of anyone” (102). They consider Atticus an old and feeble character who just sits in the living room and reads. This perception changes towards the end of the chapter, however, as Atticus shows his skill as a shooter by hitting a mad dog with his first shot despite his considerable distance. After this incident, Jem recognizes the talent that his father possesses and the humbleness that he displays. He says to Scout, “Atticus is real old, but I wouldn’t care if he couldn’t do anything—I wouldn’t care if he couldn’t do a blessed thing… Atticus is a gentleman, just like me!” (113). Jem realizes that a gentleman is not one who brags about his talents or achievements, but one who knows when and how to put those talents in use. He understands that apart from anything, Atticus has dignity, respect, and honor, which are values that make him a true gentleman different from the rest. Consequently, after perceiving his father’s modesty, Jem starts developing a feeling of admiration for him, which clearly indicates a progress to maturity. Another instance that illustrates Jem’s loss of innocence is presented in Chapter 11 as he learns about the goodness in Mrs. Dubose. Due to the constant insults and racist remarks delivered by Mrs. Dubose, Jem loses his temper and, taking Scout’s baton, destroys the tops of Mrs. Dubose camellias. As a result, he is forced to go to her house everyday for a month and read to her, which unfortunately only increases Jem’s hatred for the old lady. A little more than a month after Jem’s punishment ends, however, Mrs. Dubose dies, leaving the boy a box containing a single white camellia. At first, Jem explodes in anger due to the irony of the gift, but then, through Atticus, he learns to appreciate it. 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 of courage is a man with a gun in his hand… According to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I even met. (128) Through his father, Jem realizes that Mrs. Dubose’s disease was the mere reason for her violent, verbal attacks. He discovers that not all the people are what they seem and, in the case of Mrs....
Cited: Bloom, Harold. Bloom’s Guides: To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2006. Print.
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