Coming of age is a process that transforms us into adults. Through lessons learned by observing the world more closely, overcoming a variety of challenging obstacles, and making decisions that will influence the men and women we will become, we develop our maturity, our sense of right and wrong, and our understanding of fairness, among other things. To Kill a Mockingbird is a coming of age novel, and as it progresses Scout is beginning to face and witness conflicts that will challenge her.
In the passage below, read closely and annotate for details that reveal how Scout is experiencing a coming of age moment. Look for details that reveal how she is still a child and how she is developing a more complex understanding of the world. After annotating, answer the question on the back.
Passage from Chapter 9.
“Do all lawyers defend n-Negroes, Atticus?”
“Of course they do, Scout.”
“Then why did Cecil say you defended niggers? He made it sound like you were runnin‘ a still.”
Atticus sighed. “I’m simply defending a Negro—his name’s Tom Robinson. He lives in that little settlement beyond the town dump. He’s a member of Calpurnia’s church, and Cal knows his family well. She says they’re clean-living folks. Scout, you aren’t old enough to understand some things yet, but there’s been some high talk around town to the effect that I shouldn’t do much about defending this man. It’s a peculiar case—it won’t come to trial until summer session. John Taylor was kind enough to give us a postponement…”
“If you shouldn’t be defendin‘ him, then why are you doin’ it?”
“For a number of reasons,” said Atticus. “The main one is, 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 mean if you didn’t defend that man, Jem and me wouldn’t have to mind you any more?”
“That’s about right.”
“Because I could never ask you to mind me again. Scout, simply by the nature of the work, every lawyer gets at least one case in his lifetime that affects him personally. This one’s mine, I guess. You might hear some ugly talk about it at school, but do one thing for me if you will: you just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don’t you let ‘em get your goat. Try fighting with your head for a change… it’s a good one, even if it does resist learning.”
“Atticus, are we going to win it?”
“Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win,” Atticus said.
“You sound like Cousin Ike Finch,” I said. Cousin Ike Finch was Maycomb County’s sole surviving Confederate veteran. He wore a General Hood type beard of which he was inordinately vain. At least once a year Atticus, Jem and I called on him, and I would have to kiss him. It was horrible. Jem and I would listen respectfully to Atticus and Cousin Ike rehash the war. “Tell you, Atticus,” Cousin Ike would say, “the Missouri Compromise was what licked us, but if I had to go through it agin I’d walk every step of the way there an‘ every step back jist like I did before an’ furthermore we’d whip ‘em this time… now in 1864, when Stonewall Jackson came around by—I beg your pardon, young folks. Ol’ Blue Light was in heaven then, God rest his saintly brow…”
“Come here, Scout,” said Atticus. I crawled into his lap and tucked my head under his chin. He put his arms around me and rocked me gently. “It’s different this time,” he said. “This time we aren’t fighting the Yankees, we’re fighting our friends. But remember this, no matter how bitter things get, they’re still our friends and this is still our home.”
With this in mind, I faced Cecil Jacobs in the schoolyard next day: “You gonna take that back, boy?”
“You gotta make me first!” he yelled. “My folks said your daddy was a disgrace an‘ that nigger oughta hang from the water-tank!”
I drew a bead on him, remembered what Atticus had said, then dropped my fists and walked away, “Scout’s a cow—ward!” ringing in my ears. It was the first time I ever walked away from a fight.
Somehow, if I fought Cecil I would let Atticus down. Atticus so rarely asked Jem and me to do something for him, I could take being called a coward for him. I felt extremely noble for having remembered, and remained noble for three weeks.
Atticus provides Scout with insightful advice in this passage. Select a quote from Atticus and explain how it might represent an important theme in To Kill a Mockingbird.