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 and Jem are experiencing a coming of age moment. Look for details that reveal how they are experiencing and understanding the world in new ways. Be sure to annotate for details that may be helping the children to learn about the complexities of racial interactions (both white/black and between African Americans).
Passage from Chapter 22.
As we ate, we sensed that this was Miss Maudie’s way of saying that as far as she was concerned, nothing had changed. She sat quietly in a kitchen chair, watching us.
Suddenly she spoke: “Don’t fret, Jem. Things are never as bad as they seem.”
Indoors, when Miss Maudie wanted to say something lengthy she spread her fingers on her knees and settled her bridgework. This she did, and we waited.
“I simply want to tell you that there are some men in this world who were born to do our unpleasant jobs for us. Your father’s one of them.”
“Oh,” said Jem. “Well.”
“Don’t you oh well me, sir,” Miss Maudie replied, recognizing Jem’s fatalistic noises, “you are not old enough to appreciate what I said.”
Jem was staring at his half-eaten cake. “It’s like bein‘ a caterpillar in a cocoon, that’s what it is,” he said. “Like somethin’ asleep wrapped up in a warm place. I always thought Maycomb folks were the best folks in the world, least that’s what they seemed like.”
“We’re the safest folks in the world,” said Miss Maudie. “We’re so rarely called on to be Christians, but when we are, we’ve got men like Atticus to go for us.”
Jem grinned ruefully. “Wish the rest of the county thought that.”
“You’d be surprised how many of us do.”
“Who?” Jem’s voice rose. “Who in this town did one thing to help Tom Robinson, just who?”
“His colored friends for one thing, and people like us. People like Judge Taylor. People like Mr. Heck Tate. Stop eating and start thinking, Jem. Did it ever strike you that Judge Taylor naming Atticus to defend that boy was no accident? That Judge Taylor might have had his reasons for naming him?”
This was a thought. Court-appointed defenses were usually given to Maxwell Green, Maycomb’s latest addition to the bar, who needed the experience. Maxwell Green should have had Tom Robinson’s case.
“You think about that,” Miss Maudie was saying. “It was no accident. I was sittin‘ there on the porch last night, waiting. I waited and waited to see you all come down the sidewalk, and as I waited I thought, Atticus Finch won’t win, he can’t win, but he’s the only man in these parts who can keep a jury out so long in a case like that. And I thought to myself, well, we’re making a step—it’s just a babystep, but it’s a step.”
“‘t’s all right to talk like that—can’t any Christian judges an’ lawyers make up for heathen juries,” Jem muttered. “Soon’s I get grown—”
“That’s something you’ll have to take up with your father,” Miss Maudie said.
Jem makes a metaphor in this passage about how he seeings Maycomb. Explain this metaphor and how it may represent Jem’s coming of age.
This interaction with Miss Maudie allows Scout and Jem to see that change - especially large social change - is an unfairly slow process. What examples do they receive of the slow progress being made, and why are they significant?