The Theme of Coming of Age and its Significance to the Novel "To Kill a Mockingbird"

A Literary Analysis - All Page Numbers Refer to the Edition Shown Below



“To Kill a Mockingbird”, a story chronicling 1930s life in the deep South, is a beautifully crafted, Pulitzer-prize winning novel that was masterfully written by the renowned American author Harper Lee. Throughout the novel, the theme of coming of age is depicted multiple times, as Scout and Jem witness controversial events that expose the underlying racism that lay hidden under the false fabric of innocence shrouding the town of Maycomb, Alabama. At the start of the novel, Jem’s childish imagination is used to frighten Dill. The three children have carefree lives, playing and frolicking in the summer sun. Towards the middle of the story, Jem matures, saying that he is a gentleman, like Atticus. A bit later, Jem matures even more, and he shows Scout his newly grown chest hair, which signifies that Jem is going through puberty. Finally, close to the finish of the story, it is said that Haints, Hot Steams, incantations, and other figments of the childrens’ imaginations had dissipated as the children maturated. The statement shows how, as the children have matured, their childhood fantasies have just melted away. Coming of age, a theme prevalent in To Kill a Mockingbird, is a very important part of this wonderful classic.

In the earlier parts of the novel, Jem shows his youthful immaturity by attempting to fool Dill into believing that phantom-like creatures exist which are called “Hot Steams”. Jem explains to Dill that Hot Steams are spirits which cannot go to heaven. If anybody walks through one, they will become a Hot Steam too. He says to Dill and Scout, “Yawl hush. You act like you believe in Hot Steams.” (Page 48). Only a child would try to fool somebody into thinking something frivolous like that. Jem exhibits his juvenile nature clearly in that quote. As Jem grows, though, he matures.

Jem’s continuing maturity is exhibited later in the novel. His development is best displayed when he tells Scout that he is a gentleman. Gone are the days when Jem would play tricks and imagine about the phantom Boo Radley. Jem now behaves well and forgets about the Radleys. “Atticus is a gentleman, just like me!” (Page 131) The quote shows how Jem is coming of age and conforming to the southern society’s expectation for the way a gentleman should act. Jem’s change is part of a much bigger change, though.

Jem’s further coming of manhood is show in the quote “He unbuttoned his shirt, grinning shyly… It’s hair.” (Pages 301-302), which reveals that Jem is going through a change in young children known as puberty. Puberty is the reason for Jem’s sudden change to being a gentleman and his erratic behavior. As the years pass, the maturity of both of the children is even more accentuated, especially during Scout’s narration of “Haint, Hot Steams, incantations, secret signs, had vanished with our years as mist with sunrise.” (Page 341) This is a big change from Jem’s saying of Hot Steams to Dill two years prior. Coming of age is a theme prevalent in “To Kill a Mockingbird”.

Life in the 1930s was hard, and a boy trying to be a gentleman but torn between the Southern expectation of being racist and a father striving to teach him what is right makes it even harder. “To Kill a Mockingbird” accurately chronicles all of those struggles. It starts with a young boy trying to fool a new acquaintance into believing in some frivolous idea from his imagination. Later, the boy decides that he wants to follow in his father’s footsteps and be a gentleman. Finally, as the years pass, his imagination fades and he becomes more of an adult. “To Kill a Mockingbird” is a wonderfully crafted piece of writing, with lessons in coming of age present on every page.



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