How effectively does Harper Lee present the children and growing up in To Kill A Mockingbird? In this essay, I will be exploring Jem and Scout’s journey to maturity throughout the novel; To Kill a Mockingbird. I will look at Harper Lee’s techniques and how well they work in portraying their growth to maturity. I will also explore influences on the children and the three main themes in this novel: education, bravery and prejudice. The main them is a prejudice which will be looked at in more detail. Jem and Scout represent a typical youth, naivety and innocence. For example, in the first chapter, page 8, Scout says:
‘Thereafter, the summer passed in routine contentment. Routine contentment was: improving our treehouse that rested between giant twin chinaberry trees in the backyard, fussing, running through our list of dramas based on the works of Oliver Optic, Victor Appleton and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ They have no worries through the summer and have fun. The phrase ‘routine contentment’ is repeated in the passage, which implies that this is what they usually do in the summer and were satisfied with the events they do. These are all things people generally do in their childhood and summer. Some of the things they do seem to be menial such as ‘fussing,’ which also seems quite childish. The atmosphere of summer is created by what they do. In summer it is a time for relaxing, with no work to do.
Prices start at $12
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Prices start at $12
‘Improving our treehouse’ is one of these relaxing things they can do in the summer due to the suitable, warm weather. An example of their naivety is Jem’s description of Boo Radley to Dill and Scout, also in chapter one, on page 14: ‘…six-and-a-half feet tall…dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch, that’s why his hands were bloodstained…long jagged scar that ran across his face; what teeth he had were yellow and rotten; his eyes popped, and he drooled most of the time.’ This description is probably quite exaggerated from the town rumours they’ve heard. The exaggeration is shown with phrases such as ‘dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch’ and ‘drooled most of the time.’ It is unlikely anyone would eat raw animals or droll most of the time.
The effect of ‘long jagged scar’, ‘teeth he had were yellow and rotten’ and ‘his eyes popped’ sounds like an evil, scary monster. They turn him into a horror story, and it is probably very exaggerated. However, the passage shows innocence as they believe the rumours about Boo Radley. The children have never seen Boo, but they still judge him and the way he looks and lives. Their main role model in the novel is Atticus, their father. Scout is often critical of Atticus’ ways and how he brings them up. An example of this is how Atticus treats Mrs. Dubose with kindness and compliments when she often throws insults at him. Scout does not understand why he treats Mrs. Dubose so nicely. Atticus plays a good role for Jem and Scout by teaching them about prejudice by defending a black man in a racist community. When asked by Scout why he is defending a negroe, he replies:
‘…if I didn’t, I couldn’t hold up my head in town, I couldn’t represent this county in the legislature, I couldn’t even tell you or Jem not to do something again…you might hear some ugly talk about it at school, but do one thing for me: you hold your head high and keep those fist down…try fighting with your head for a change.’ This is on pages 83-84, chapter 9. Atticus says in this passage that if he didn’t defend Tom, he would be ashamed and would not be able to stop Jem and Scout from doing something wrong as he would be hypocritical. He also helps Scout stop fighting physically by telling her to ‘try fighting with your head for a change.’ He tells her that others will not agree with what he is doing as there will be ‘some ugly talk,’ and she must be aware of it. This is the first point in the novel where Scout learns about prejudice.
Atticus is the most important role model as he helps them mature the most. Although he is their father, he does not treat them as children but as adults. He looks after them properly; however, he does not play games with them. He talks to them often as adults. Atticus takes Jem and Scout to Tom Robinson’s trial, which other young children would not understand or find a terrible experience. Jem and Scout find it an experience that teaches them about right and wrong and racism. When Tom Robinson is found guilty, they are agitated and cry at the unfair verdict. They know Tom is innocent, but the society they live in will make sure he is found guilty.
‘It was Jem’s turn to cry. His face was streaked with angry tears as we made our way through the cheerful crowd. “It ain’t right,” he muttered…’ This passage from chapter 22, page 234, is after Tom is found guilty. The children show much more maturity than the rest of the town as it says ‘the cheerful crowd’ is happy at the verdict. However, they realize this is the wrong verdict as it says Jem’s face was ‘streaked with angry tears.’ This passage shows the children’s maturity, which they gained while watching the trial. Throughout the novel, Jem changes socially, mentally and emotionally more than Scout. In chapter six, page 57, Dill and Jem go to the Radley house to try to get a look at Boo Radley:
‘Dill and Jem were simply going to peep in the window with the loose shutter to see if they could get a look at Boo Radley, and if I didn’t want to go with them, I could go straight home and keep my fat flopping mouth shut…’ But at the beginning of Chapter 25, page 262, Jem condemns Scout for wanting to kill a bug: ‘A roly-poly had found his way into the house…Jem was scowling… “Why couldn’t I mash him?” I asked. “Because they don’ bother you,” Jem answered…’ In the first passage, Jem is perceived as being youthful and innocent, not caring what the consequences of his actions will be. We assume Jem has told Scout to ‘keep my fat flopping mouth shut,’ which is a childish way of speaking. The use of childish, youthful language such as ‘fat flopping’ shows his immaturity.
Also, ‘peeping in the window’ is a daft thing to do, as the rumours in the town say Boo Radley is dangerous, but Dill and Jem take no notice. They see it as satisfying their curiosity, not as something that could bring them harm. In the second passage, Jem seems much more grown-up, having shed his innocence. He refuses to allow Scout to squash a bug. While Scout uses youthful words such as ‘mash,’ he tells her the bug has done nothing to harm her. I think this change occurs after Tom Robinson’s trial. Jem learnt much from the trial, and I think he learnt a positive lesson by now protecting harmless and fragile creatures. I think these two passages show Harper Lee very effectively uses language to portray Jem’s growth to maturity.
To Kill a Mockingbird is told in the first person by Scout. She recalls four years of her childhood from an adult perspective. An example of this is on page 113, chapter 11. This is Scout remembering the moment before when Jem ruined Mrs. Dubose’s camellia bushes. ‘In later years, I sometimes wondered exactly what made him break the bonds of “You just be a gentleman, son” and the phrase of self-conscious rectitude he had recently entered… and I took it for granted that he kept his temper – he had the naturally tranquil disposition and a slow fuse. At the time, however, I thought the only explanation for what he did was that for a few minutes, he simply d.’
This passage shows her immaturity as a child because as she recalls that time, she uses the phrase ‘I took it for granted that he kept his temper.’ This shows she did not really think that Jem would get angry because of his usual good temper. She did not think as a child about the reasons behind Jem’s ‘mad’ outburst and how Mrs. Dubose’s comments about their family affect Jem differently from her. This was the reason she cut the tops off her bushes. In this passage, Scout uses more adult words like ‘rectitude,’ which she would not have used when she was younger. As she grew, she began to think more about why he did what he did when she says ‘…I sometimes wondered what exactly made him break the bonds of “You must be a gentleman, son.”‘
As she thought back on the incident, she tried to think about his reasons more instead of coming to a rush decision. The use of both views helps the reader gets a good understanding of children. Although this is written in the first person, you get two views: a child and a mature woman. I think this is a good example of how Harper Lee represents growing up. Scout is a tomboy in the novel. She is often involved in fights and is fairly tough. However, she is blunt and honest and finds it hard to hold back her feelings and opinions. An example of this is when the Finch family visits Scout’s Aunt Alexandra’s house at Christmas, at which she became annoyed with her cousin, Francis. This is because he taunts her on page 93, chapter 9:
‘Francis looked at me carefully…and crooned softly. “Nigger-lover…” This time I split my knuckle to the bone on his front teeth. My left impaired, I sailed in with my right, but not for long. Uncle Jack pinned my arms to my sides…’ This passage shows she has a short temper which regularly gets her into trouble. She has a reason to be irritated with Francis, though if she were more mature at this point, she would have dealt with the situation differently. Her childishness shows through by punching him and intending to go further. ‘My left impaired, I sailed in with my right, but not for long.’ Young boys are often the more violent gender with one another and fight with each other a lot. The words ‘knuckle’, ‘bone,’ ‘teeth’ make the passage sound more aggressive and destructive.
The uses of bones make it sound more violent. This passage also says that it took reasonable force to stop her from carrying on punching him as her Uncle Jack had to restrain her. Perhaps the reason behind her being boyish is that her main influences are Jem and Atticus. There is no female influence in her life apart from Calpurnia, who is not very involved in Scout’s life. Scout looks up to her brother when she is younger, so she follows what he does. They spend a lot of time together, and as he is still growing up, he is not the best influence on her life. In the novel, many things she says are something Jem has told her and phrases such as ‘Jem said…’ and ‘Jem was a born hero’ are used, as though she listened to every word he said. But as the novel progresses, Jem matures and helps protect Scout and tells her when she is doing wrong. I think this shows that Harper Lee understands what children feel like and their consequent actions.
In Jem and Scout’s journey to maturity throughout the novel, three major themes are touched upon. These are education, bravery and prejudice. Scout’s school education is not as helpful to her as learning from Atticus. This is because she learns more about social issues from him. Jem and Scout can often be seen as courageous by standing up for what they believe and defending their family as they know they are right compared to the hypocritical people around them. They know the others are being irrational, but very few people share the same views as them. But the main theme in this novel is prejudice. The novel centres on the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man convicted of the rape of a white girl. Atticus is defending him as a lawyer; even though he knows they will not win, he knows that Tom did not rape the girl. Only the Finch family seems to realize other people’s irrational attitudes to race and class.
In conclusion, I think Harper Lee’s portrayal of children living in the 1930s is realistic. The use of childish language can make you think about a young child’s voice and recall your experiences as a young child. I like the idea of the novel being written by Scout as an older woman as it gives a different viewpoint on events. This novel deals with the issues of education, bravery and especially prejudice. In the southern states in the 1930s, white people were very racist against black people. TKAM shows racism with the unjust decision of Tom Robinson’s case. Another case of prejudice is how the town has built up an image of Boo Radley without seeing him or knowing him properly. During the novel, Jem and Scout have a fairly joyful childhood dealing with issues that arise in childhood, but the shocking moments really make them mature.
Tom Robinson’s trial matures them the most, and I think it deals with racism very well. The reaction of the rest of the town after the trial, such as Bob Ewell attempting to kill them, makes them more determined to make others know that racism is wrong. TKAM is a good portrayal of maturing and learning what is right and what is wrong. But it is only the children who learn from these events. People in the town learn not to judge people without knowing them properly. A prime example is Boo Radley, who no one had seen for years. When they find out, he is not as demented or mad as they imagined and actually helped Scout realize they should not have gossiped or made a snap judgement. Most of the char