How to Kill a Mockingbird Growing up can be the most memorable and challenging times in life.
It is unique path to a person’s coming-of-age that is marked by important life lessons. These sometime traumatizing lessons create formative bases for people to grow and develop into the best version of themselves they can be. People both young and old cherish coming-of-age novels because they allow them to reflect on their own story once again. Written in the mid 1950’s by a young Alabama woman named Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird is an unforgettable and timeless coming of age story of the young protagonist, Jem, because it highlights his personal development from a naive child to a mature young adult. This novel highlights the coming of age of Jem through his recognition of the existence of evil in his life, his development of compassion towards those less fortunate than him, and his realization that the people in his life are not always as they seem. The recognition that evil exists in his life was one of the most important aspects in Jem’s personal development. Jem is first exposed to the evil that lives within his own town when he understands that the lynch mob will hurt his father. This is shown through his refusal to leave his father’s side during the confrontation.
“Go home Jem,’ he said. ‘ Take Scout and Dill home’… Jem was not thinking of budging. ‘Go home I said.
‘ Jem shook his head” (203.) The fear of what the lynch mob will do to Atticus prevents Jem from obeying his father’s orders. At this point, he realizes that the people he once considered neighbors and friends will turn against their own in opposed. In this way, Jem is maturing because he begins to fear the existence and possibility of violence around him. Additionally, Jem learns of the true extent of evil in racism after Tom Robinson is found to be guilty. As Scout recalls, “It was Jem’s turn to cry, his face was streaked with angry tears… “It ain’t right, he muttered” (284.) It is through this that Jem understands that the racism ingrained within people has the ability to prevent them from judging between just and unjust. In this way, his outlook on Maycomb’s residents and his opinion about Maycomb’s society has changed.
Furthermore, Jem comes face to face with the power of evil in human beings through his interactions with the character of Bob Ewell. At first, Jem is only afraid of the threats that Mr. Ewell makes towards Atticus, saying that “We’re scared for you…When a man says he’s gonna get you, looks like he means it” (292). However, Jem truly understands the capacity that human beings have to act out of evil when he becomes a direct victim of Bob Ewells quest for veangance after Mr. Ewell “Tried to wring his arm off” (354.) Overall, Jem’s direct exposure recognization of evil proves to him that it is simply a part of human nature, and this marks his growth from a naive child to an experiances young adult. The realization that people are not always as they seem is also another aspect that signifies Jem’s coming-of-age. This is shown firstly through Jem’s reaction to Boo Radley’s kind gesture when he and scout were preoccupied with watching Ms.
Maudie’s house burn to the ground. “Mr. Nathan put cement in the tree… to stop us findin’ things- he’s crazy, I reckon, like they say, but Atticus, I swear to God he ain’t ever harmed us, he ain’t ever hurt us, he could cut my throat… but he tried to mend my pants instead”(96). Jem is displaying his understanding that Boo Radley is not the monstrous figure he had assumed him to be. Instead, he recognizes that Boo has an innocent, caring nature which proves that the stories he had created and heard (such as stabbing his father with a pair of scissors) were unquestionably false. In this way, Jem learns that there is a lot more to a person that than the stories you hear about them.
The complexity of people is further introduced to Jem after Atticus reveals Mrs. Dubose’s battle with addiction. “Jem, when you are as sick as she was, it’s alright to take anything to make it easier, but it wasn’t alright for her… she meant to break herself of it, and that’s what she did .’ ‘You mean that’s what her fits were?”(148).
Jem learns through the character of Mrs. Dubose that people be terrible in one way, but admirable in another. He realizes that Mrs. Dubose was more that a cranky, senile old woman that harassed children, but also a morally courageous woman. In turn, Jem learns that there are layers to every person, so it is unfair to judge people based on what is on the surface. Also, learning that a Cunningham supported Tom in court illustrates to Jem just how complex humans can be.
Jem’s confusion is highlighted when he when he says: “One minute they’re tryin’ to kill him and the next they’re tryin’ to turn him loose… I’ll never understand those folks as long as I live” (298). After witnessing a Cunningham threaten his father, Jem is surprised to learn that the family is now supporting Atticus. In this way, his previous understanding of the kinds of people the Cunningham’s are is challenged, and Jem can see just how quickly people can change their opinions and develop themselves to become better people.
In general, the contradicting personalities that make up human nature, and his interactions with people in his community help Jem understand that people are not always who they appear to be. Jem’s development of compassion for those who are less fortunate than him is another tell-tale sign of his coming-of-age. Jem’s recognition of the value of all forms of life is show when he refuses to allow Scout kill the roly-poly bug. Scout recalls that “He (Jem) was certainly never cruel to animals, but I had never known his charity to embrace the insect world. ‘Why couldn’t I mash him?’ I asked. ‘Because they don’t bother you” (320).
As Jem grows up, he is able to see the inequalities in his town more clearly, specifically with the Tom Robinson case; Jem knows that there is no way he can save Tom. This new knowledge prevents him from allowing any harm to come to any other innocent creatures that have no way to defend themselves. Also, after the trial, Jem displays compassion towards Tom Robinson through his disbelief at his conviction. Jem says: “Doesn’t make it right… You can’t convict a man on evidence like that- you can’t” (295). In this way, Jem is showing compassion by empathizing with Tom.
He is able to recognize the cruelty behind convicting Tom solely because he is black. His ability to show compassion to a man that the rest of the town is against shows that Jem is maturing, as he is able to break apart from the racist mindset of the norm and judge between right and wrong on his own. Furthermore, Jem is able to assess Walter Cunningham’s societal situation and shows compassion towards him. After Scout explains why she was trying to beat him up, Jem asks Walter: “Your daddy Mr. Walter Cunningham from Old Sarum? …
Come have dinner with us, Walter,’ he said. ‘We’d be glad to have you (31). By the fact that Walter does not have enough to eat and through his recognition of the Cunningham family name, Jem understands that Walter is not as fortunate as him, and wants to help by offering Walter what he has to share. Jem understands that life is already hard enough as is, so he prevents Scout from embarrassing him any further.
Through this, it is evident that Jem is growing up, because he has the ability to acknowledge that his family is well off, and instead of making fun of Walter because he is of a lower social standing, Jem shows compassion and instead uses his own privilege to help him. Ultimately, Jem’s ability to be compassionate to others not only develops him as a young adult, but also gives him insight on the societal standings and twisted mindsets of others in his town. To Conclude, To Kill a Mockingbird is a powerful coming of age novel, as demonstrated through the character of Jem. Throughout the novel, Jem is able to recognize the existence of evil within his own community; He realizes that people are always far more complex than they appear to be; and, finally, he develops compassion towards both people and things that are less fortunate than him. Jem is forced to leave his childhood naïveté behind and is exposed to the cruelty power of systematic racism and the injustice in everyday life.
Ultimately, Jem learns to challenge common perception and develops his own personal values and morals that make him the unique character that To Kill a Mockingbird is loved and remembered by.