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Losing Innocence in To Kill A Mockingbird

Updated on May 26, 2011


As young children, we crave a feeling of maturity and self-importance. We mark the days off our calendars in the heightened anticipation that each day is a day closer to the next birthday. Becoming a “double-digit” is considered wholly significant. But once we’ve reached that level of understanding where we’ve witnessed the wickedness in Pandora’s box, we, in turn, wish we could wind back the clock to the simpler, easier days where our biggest worry was what color crayon to use next. In Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill A Mockingbird , we see many events that illustrate the irreplaceable loss of a child’s bare naivety and innocence. Two adventurous and light-spirited children, Jem and Scout, are weighed down by the grave happenings of their small town, Maycomb. 

A key idea in the book is the contrast between Jem’s developing maturity, as opposed to Scout’s free-minded innocence. On Jem’s ‘journey of enlightenment’, he struggles to swallow the suggestion that his perfect Maycomb may not be so flawless after all. Unlike Scout, he understands the grow importance of the prejudice in Tom Robinson’s trial; he is deathly troubled by the injustice and disgusted with the people he once deemed “the best folks in the world”. As he develops into a young Atticus, he has trouble adjusting and the young, light-hearted Jem slowly slips away. Scout, unaccustomed to this new and serious Jem, can’t seem to adjust to his new ways. It is saddening to read of the fading of Jem’s innocence, especially its’ effect on Scout. Scout, as a curious, thoughtful child, directs her questions, first at Jem and then to Atticus. When she mentions the trial of Tom Robinson and the hypocritical ways of Ms. Gates, Jem releases much of the anger and confusion he must have felt out on Scout; growing up is a lonely process.

It is said that experiences make you who you are a person. But, I believe it is more how you deal and behave in those experiences that truly shape one’s character. The trial acts as a perfect example. I felt as though Jem was trying to block people out, as he tried to figure out who he was and to wrap his head around the new perspective of Maycomb and all the neighborhood folks. On the other hand, Scout can’t comprehend, in her limited view of life, the true hatred and unfairness that lies in the world. It is absolute that with hardships comes maturity, and with maturity comes the opening of innocent eyes and minds. Is growing up worth the expense of pure naivety? It is an age-old question with no solid answer. 

Once the veil of childhood is lifted, one will see and think of people differently, as Jem did. I feel that the words of Dolphus Raymond help to explain the ways of children; when children get older, they won’t “cry about the hell white people give colored folks without even stopping to think that they’re people too.” Innocent children don’t know anything but the clear-cut answers of what is right and wrong, black and white. As they get older, they lose themselves in the obscure midsections of gray. In other words, losing innocence is merely understanding that the limp, cold mockingbird that did nothing but breathe life and music into people’s lives, is gone so that one may understand the reality of life- the reality of killing a mockingbird. 

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