Being mature can mean two things between physical maturity and mental maturity. Although they don’t have to happen simultaneously, they are often linked and occur around the time of a child growing into a teenager. To Kill a Mockingbird captures this time of mental maturation in the lives of Scout, Jem and Dill as they are growing up. Scout and Jem’s understanding of society, racism, and the people of Maycomb is one of the main focal points of the novel and it evolves as they learn about and are exposed to the world. The course of the story follows their journey from the beginning of the book to the middle, end and beyond. At the start of the novel, Jem and Scout do not understand others.
“‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.’ Atticus said I had learned many things today… if Walter and I had put ourselves in her shoes we’d have seen it was an honest mistake on her part.” (39-40) In this instance, Scout doesn’t understand why her teacher tries to give Walter Cunningham money. Scout knows the Cunninghams reject charity, but she fails to realize her teacher is not educated in the ways of Maycomb. After being exposed to someone outside of Maycomb, Atticus takes the opportunity to teach her a life lesson about perspective.
Ms. Dubose is another example. Jem and Scout hate her because all she does is insult them, which is justified. However, they don’t know that she is a morphine addict who, being old, cannot let go of her grudges. Atticus helps them to understand her, saying “She had her own views about things, a lot different than mine, maybe…” (149) when Jem asks how he considers her a lady. As children they didn’t know how to see other’s perspectives, but through this experience they learn how to understand different points of view.
By the middle of the book, the children are more mature. “‘Why do you reckon Boo Radley’s never run off?’ Dill sighed a long sigh and turned away from me. ‘Maybe he doesn’t have anywhere to run off to…'” (192) “Dill asked if I’d like to have a poke at Boo Radley. I said I didn’t think it’d be nice to bother him.” (198) The children now understand Boo better and are more mature in the way they view him and act toward him. Through their experiences with Boo, they know that he is not a malevolent ghost of their nightmares, but an antagonized recluse. Seeing things without the bias of innocence (and ignorance) is a sign of being mature. They are starting to put themselves into other people’s shoes after Atticus has taught them how and they now realize every issue is seen from multiple different sides.
The proceedings of the trial pushed the community out of their comfort zone and is the biggest catalyst in the children’s journey to adulthood. During the trial Scout and Dill go outside, where they meet Mr. Raymond, who is the town drunk. Scout doesn’t want anything to do with him, but through her uncomfort she learns something: ‘Come on round here, son. I got something that’ll settle your stomach.
‘ As Mr. Dolphus Raymond was an evil man I accepted his invitation reluctantly, but I followed Dill… ‘Hee hee,’ said Mr. Raymond, evidently taking delight in corrupting a child… Dill released the straws and grinned.
‘Scout, it’s nothing but Coca-Cola.’ (267)Scout is shocked that he makes people believe he is drunk while he only drinks Coca-Cola. But as he explains it to her, she understands his adult perspective and why it’s “mighty helpful to folks.” (268) He knows if he didn’t act like a drunk, it would make people even more uncomfortable than they already are.
They need a reason for his betrayal of his white upbringing. In Bryan Stevenson’s TED talk he discusses ways to make a change, including being uncomfortable. The trial was very uncomfortable for Maycomb because it made them think about the racial divisions and inequality. But through that uncomfort the seed of change was planted. Also by way of the trial, Scout, Jem, and Dill are exposed to many new things and ideas. Their gained experience pushes them to evolve as people and leave their comforting childhood. Shown the underbelly of Maycomb, they start to question it. Throughout the book the theme of growing up is prevalent.
It carries through Scout’s narration and provides a changing perspective for us to read about Maycomb. The racism seen by a child is not processed correctly, because they do not understand it. This book gives us a first-person perspective into what effect it has on normalizing racism. But through the child’s experience and maturity, they learn to be accepting if they are taught it. The progression of the story relies mostly on the aging of the children.
The deeper and darker themes are displayed only when the children are older, when they realize them. As children the mature themes elude them, since they simply are not aware. In conclusion, To Kill a Mockingbird is a book about growing up and becoming an adult through the experiences the three children, including the narrator, have.