Maturity in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird

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The book To Kill a Mockingbird, written by Harper Lee, is considered to be a timeless classic that deals with such sensitive themes such as: prejudice, human dignity, social classes, and maturity. Maturity, that word has a different meaning for all of us. Maturity as I see it is an understanding that comes to people with experience and not age but the two usually seem to go together, but not always. Many people talk about the experiences that Scout goes through and the maturity that she achieves in the book but they don’t pay attention to the other characters that “grow up” or mature in the story.
     The next most obvious person in the book that drastically matures is Jem. At the beginning of the book Jem is much like Scout in that he has the innocence of a young child. For example Jem tells Scout and Dill various made-up stories about Boo Radley to satisfy his need for excitement in his life and for the childish need to scare Scout and Dill. His immaturity is also mirrored when he makes up a game in which he puts Boo’s “… life’s history on display for the edification of the neighborhood.” After that he shows his lack of being able to control his temper and lack of respect when he destroys Miss Dubose’s camellias. There is no doubt that Jem was immature at the start of this book but as the book progresses we see a drastic change in him.
     Jem begins to mature, or understand life more, after Scout, Dill and himself enter the Radley’s yard and attempt to peek through the shutters. He loses his pants and decides to go back for them he justifies doing this by saying, “Atticus ain’t never whipped me since I can remember. I wanna keep it that way.” There is an understanding or maturity in what he says there. Atticus would whip him because of the fact that Jem had been told numerous times to leave the Radleys alone and by confessing to Atticus that he had lost his pants while trying to escape the Radley’s yard, Atticus would find out that Jem had disobeyed him yet again. Jem could not allow something he did to lower the opinion that Atticus had of him. So Jem, with his new understanding, knew he had to get his pants back before Atticus could find out that he lost them, or Atticus would whip him and by doing so express his disappointment in Jem.

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     Later in the book we get to see more of Jem’s “turning into a man.” During Tom Robinson’s trial Jem seems to be the only one that understands where Atticus is going with his questions to the witnesses. Jem realizes that Atticus has proven Tom innocent way before even the adults come to that realization. There is still a little bit of child however in Jem at this point. He can not seem to understand how the jury could find Tom guilty even after his innocence was plainly set out for all to see. His is the naïve nature of children, they can not seem to understand prejudice, but neither can a lot of grown people. For prejudice does not come with age, it is not there to bloom as we get older, rather it is planted there by people around you and if it is never planted within you, you could never hope to understand it. It is obvious to see how Jem has matured throughout the book but there are a lot of other people that matured to a lesser extent as well.
     Scout and Jem’s uncle, Uncle Jack, has who is about as old as Atticus (50) also matures a little in this book. It is by a lesson taught to him by Scout who is a mere child, which just goes to show maturity comes with experience not age. In the book Scout says some inappropriate words which Uncle Jack overhears, he tells Scout to never use these words unless under extreme provocation. Then Scout’s cousin calls Atticus a nigger lover to which Scout resorts to physical and verbal abuse. Uncle Jack comes in and breaks up the fight and without hearing Scout’s side of the story he takes a belt to Scout. Scout is very angry and upset after this event, she goes to her room and cries. After a little while Uncle Jack comes into her room to try and justify his actions against Scout. Scout then tells him that he is not fair and that Atticus would never whip her until he had heard both sides of any story. Uncle Jack is so stunned as to the realization that children can have such depth of thought and in this moment he matures and understands children better.
     Another of the people that mature in this book by the hands of Scout is the lynching mob that comes to kill Tom Robinson. This is more a realization but can also be considered a maturing. The mob comes to the prison with the direct intention to hang Tom. Atticus is waiting at the prison for any trouble that might arise and threaten his client. When the mob arrives Atticus folds his paper and begins trying to deter the mob from there desired course of action, however, the mob is bent on getting to Tom because of the “mob mentality” that is present. They are not individual people but part of a mob at this point and thus they lack the reasoning of a normal person, so it is no wonder they are so bent on killing Tom. After awhile of Atticus talking to the mob Scout runs out to talk to Atticus. Atticus tries to get her to leave but has no success. Scout then begins to talk to Mr. Cunningham; she talks of how Walter Cunningham is in her class and various other personal subjects with him. In this moment Scout pulls Mr. Cunningham out of the “mob mentality” and back to a reasoning person level. After Scout does this Mr. Cunningham calls off the mob and they all return home. It is kind of amazing that a young girl could, by her innocence, deter a whole mob of men from their course of action, or cause them to mature, look at what they were doing and analyze the consequences.
     This mob is not the only group of citizens that matured in this book either. Everyone in Maycomb matures in this book. After and during Tom’s trial I believe the people of Maycomb were forced to look at their beliefs and analyze their base. Tom Robinson was accused and committed with the rape of Mayella Ewell, during the trail Atticus had presented facts that all but proved Tom was innocent. The only evidence the state produced was the testimony of two white people. When the jury went for deliberation everyone knew that Tom Robinson was innocent. But if you understand the social classes in the 1930’s you would understand that no matter what a black man could not be innocent when accused by a white man. The jury deliberated for about two hours and when they came back they found Tom guilty. The author uses the amount of time that the jury was gone to symbolize that even though Tom was black they all knew he was innocent but still they could never find him that way. During that time and after the people of Maycomb took a step towards being able to find a black man innocent in a court of law which is a big step towards maturity.
     It is quite obvious to see how the people of Maycomb matured in this book. From little Jem Finch to the whole county of Maycomb. It is interesting to see the changes in the various characters and how some maturity comes almost instantly to others from an experience they had in the novel. It is quite obvious to see that maturity comes from one’s experiences and not the amount of time that has passed in their life.


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