“To Kill a Mockingbird” Coming of Age Essay
The focal characters of the novel To Kill A Mockingbird are the children of the middle-aged lawyer Atticus, Jean Louise “Scout”Finch, her elder brother Jeremy Atticus “Jem” Finch and their friend, a boy from their neighbourhood Charles Baker Harris (Dill). As Atticus gets involved and tried to bring out the truth in the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man falsey accused of raping a white girl, the children undergo a traumatic experience of coming of age. Atticus’s efforts to save Tom from the wrath of the white community results in his unpopularity among his own community, and the Scout and Jem are teased and segregated by other children and adults for being the children of Atticus. Contrary to the decision of Atticus to keep the children away from the whole incident related to Tom Robinson’s trial, they sneak in at the most unexpected places, including the front of the prison and the court. The experiences they had to undergo can be seen either in favour of or against their growing up and entering the adult world.
It can be argued that the experiences Scot, Jem and Dill had in connection with the Tim Robinson trial had a negative effect on their development of social cosciousness. They could have been kept away from the disappointing aspects of racism and the tendency of people to lead clistered community lives. When Calpurnia took the children to the black church, they noticed the cultural difference of black people from their community, and came to contact with the poverty, ignorance and helplessness that were thrust on the colored people. And the references to Tom Robinson there introduces the word ‘rape’ to Scout and she asks Calpurnia, “what’s rape Cal?” (124). Also, the children realise how Calpurnia has to use a different language in the black church, and when asked about this, she says: “…what if I talked white-folk’s talk at church, and with my neighbours? They’d think I was puttin’ on airs to beat Moses” (126). The children are thus exposed to the uneven social status and differences among communities at a very young age, detsroying their childhood dreams and preoccupations. When they confront the lynch mob in front of the prison also, they confront the reality that people can be turned reckless when they deal with the issues of race, and a just man like their father can be the target of their wrath. In the court, they sit among the blacks during the trial and witness the trial in which it is proven beyond doubt that Tom is innocent and the accusers, the disreputed Bob Ewell and his daughter Mayella were lying. However, the white jury convicts Tom at the face of clear evidence contrary to their verdict. The children, espeically Jem who is the eldest among them facing the choices of good and evil in his conscience, are disillusioned when Tom becomes a victim at the hands of ruthless racism. This can be seen as having a negative impact on the development of moral values of the children, as they are susceptible to loosing faith in the basic goodness of life.
However, the novel has a moral philosophy of its own, and when seen from its perspective, the children have undergone a real education in life, regarding the real nature of human values. It was a necessary initiation to the harsh realities of life, and they learn to see the truth beyond prejudices. They get gradually convinced of the arguments by their father that one needs to understand other people from their perspective and not from our views on them which are formed by social conventions. Jem shows that he is capable of meeting the demands of the adult world when he refuses to leave the place when the aggressive lynch mob threatened Atticus. “ “I ain’t going” was his steady answer to Atticus’s threats, requests, and finally, “Please Jem, take them home” ” (153). Scout exposes her childhood innocence on many occasions, and the most significant among them is when addresses a manqamong the lynch mob, Mr. Walter Cunnigham, and asks about his son with whom she went to school. She tells him that she goes to school with his son and asks him to say ‘hey’ to his son from her ((154). This changes the mood altogether and Mr.Cunnigham takes the intiative to disperse the mob. Incidents like this must definitely have instilled the right amount of confidence in the children regarding the basic goodness of human heart, even among those people who are forced to fall prey to rude and thoughtless behaviour. Though the courtroom and the trial exposed the children to further racial differences and prejudices, they must have also got an opportunity, like the readers, to develop a compassionate attitude towards the sects of people who oppressed and misrepresented. Though the court’s verdict is against Tom, the falsity of the accusations against him is unravelled, leaving no space for doubt. The intense frustration that the children must have experienced as they witnessed the victory injustice may hopefully lead them to fight against the same in their future life, as they grow up as adults who try to see the truth behind everything before forming their opinions on them.
Lee, Harper. To Kill A Mocking Bird. New York: Warner Books, 1998.