‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is an excellent example of a bildungsroman. Bildungsroman is a genre of novel in which characters go from a position of ignorance and in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, the position of youth to a position of greater maturity and understanding. Harper Lee deals with many adult issues in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ through the eyes and ears of a child narrator; this allows the reader to overcome any prejudices an adult narrator may express. In ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, Scout is one of the few characters influenced only by the ethical custodian figure that is their father, Atticus.Order now
Despite the apparent lack of any real control over her, from a very early stage in the novel the impression is given that Atticus is one of the few people Scout will pay attention to. Rather than the more common fatherly approach of force, Atticus uses compromise: ‘ ‘If you concede the necessity to go to school, we’ll go reading every night just as we always have. Is it a bargain? ‘ ‘Yes sir! ‘ ‘ This one example of Atticus’s approach may reveal one way by which Scout can mature: the more traditional forceful approach of fatherhood may have instilled a fear in Scout of her father, and caused her to remain a child for a longer period of time.
Instead, she matures as result of Atticus’s more adult-like approach towards the treatment of his children. This allows them to develop their own views, and to make decisions for themselves. At the beginning of the novel, Scout is portrayed as a hotheaded individual, who thinks that playground violence solves problems: ‘Catching Walter Cunningham in the schoolyard gave me some pleasure, but when I was rubbing his nose in the dirt Jem came by and told me to stop. ‘ Scout’s reason for inciting a fight with Walter was an immature one, yet is related to the prejudice she experiences in Maycomb.
She was angered by others’ prejudices towards blacks, and towards her father defending Tom Robinson. Later in the novel it is clear to see how she has reached the ‘first stage’ of level-headedness when confronted with a threatening situation – instead of jumping in with her fists flying, she finds the strength to resist the taunts of those less mature than her. After this incident, Atticus again reminds Scout of the importance of not fighting: ‘You might hear some ugly talk about it at school, but do one thing for me if you will: you just hold your head up high and keep those fists down. Atticus seems to know that he can rely upon the great respect Scout harbours for him to see that his point is remembered.
It seems to the reader that Scout has taken this advice well, when she walks away from a fight at school, again from prejudiced taunts about her father’s case, with Atticus’s words reverberating in her head. She possesses the maturity, it seems, to take advice to heart very quickly, and to realise that to break a tacit promise to her father would be a great regression in her path towards becoming a rounded individual.
Yet only a short time later the book almost deliberately makes a point of the fact that she regresses back to fisticuffs in order to settle a petty dispute with Francis. Francis appears in the novel as being particularly susceptible to his grandmother’s prejudices. This results in Scout no longer being able to resist the temptation of violence. This may be because, whereas in the schoolyard she could walk away, Francis is perpetually irritating her with the constant irritation of his presence. After initially displaying the maturity shown when walking away from a fight, she is unable to muster the inner strength required to repeat the task.
This, however, should not be taken as meaning that Scout will no longer be able to resist the temptation of fighting: as I have previously mentioned, to portray the rise to maturity of Scout to be smooth and uneventful would be unrealistic: Harper Lee’s inclusion of this event makes Scout’s progression seem pragmatic. When previously she could resist the lure of a fight by reminding herself of conforming to one of Atticus’ very few regulations, there is still the child present inside her, which cannot yet be restrained.
Courage is also a lesson in which Scout experiences both the extremes: true bravery Mrs. Dubose’s morphine addiction, and the distinct lack of nerve Mayella Ewell’s towards her father, all from a tender age. These lessons provoke emotions in Scout that she finds difficult to explain-only then does she talk to Atticus, who instils in her the true connotation of her experience. He clarifies her childish thoughts, until eventually she no longer needs to convert her thoughts into adult ones, due to the fact that they are already clear to her. Scout’s discovery of Mrs.
Dubose’s courage, only after her death, teaches her an extremely important lesson, yet the lesson learnt was complex enough to justify Atticus’ explanation: ‘â€¦I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin it anyway and you see it through no matter what. ‘ This quotation shows very well the extent to which Scout is willing to uphold values instilled by Atticus, as well as revealing to her the extent to which some people in Maycomb keep their lives private.
This could be because people in Maycomb may not wish to have others harbour prejudices against them- Mrs. Dubose would certainly not have liked to have been publicly regarded as an addict. This meant that her battle had to be a private one, and one which Scout and Jem only appreciate the magnitude of after her death. Very soon afterwards, she finds the strength of character to walk away from a fight. By the end of the Mrs. Dubose experience, Scout no longer judges by appearances.
She realises that although in Maycomb everyone thinks that they know everything about everyone else, in reality many people hide things Dolphus Raymond for example. Scout also learns through this experience to look through other people’s prejudices and generalisations. The above quotation also relates to Atticus’ court case. Here her father puts into practice his words, as the case is played out before her. Her incident with Dolphus Raymond is another that builds on her character. At first she is quick to accept others’ preconceptions about Dolphus.
Her initial impression of him is built upon uncorroborated rumours she has heard form other people in Maycomb: ‘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 followed Dill. ‘ When she finally engages in conversation with him outside the courtroom, she becomes conscious of her misapprehension: ‘… he was fascinating. I had never encountered a being who deliberately perpetrated a fraud against himself.. But why had he entrusted us with his deepest secret? ‘
She appreciates that he is not just someone who is set apart from Maycomb’s society by his different habits, but that he is a far more moral man than the rest of Maycomb. He doesn’t harbour prejudices against those who are slightly different-this is emphasised by the inclusion of the fact that he has mixed children. This is one example of the way in which Harper Lee works to abolish stereotypes in the novel. By including the fact about Dolphus’ mixed children, she creates another dimension to a character which otherwise may well have fitted the stereotype of a prejudiced Maycomb male.
At this point in the novel it becomes clear to the reader that Scout no longer accepts peoples’ prejudices blindly: she instinctively approaches someone with an uncorrupted, even pure perspective that only a child could achieve. Yet earlier in the novel Scout experiences the harsh reality of the caste system in Maycomb. On visiting the black community church she begins to appreciate the differences between the two communities. The blacks in Maycomb only own their own church for one day a week: ‘Negroes worshipped in it on Sundays and white men gambled in it on weekdays. The difference between this atmosphere and that of the missionary circle is immense. The strength of community spirit between the ‘coloured folks of Maycomb’ is great, yet also friendly enough to welcome Scout and Jem to service: a black woman would never get near the missionary circle’s gatherings. The black community is relaxed in its worship: no-one is made uncomfortable with anyone else’s presence, yet in the missionary circle, prejudice is so great that the ladies pass judgement on all the gossip, acting as judges on the people of Maycomb.
The ladies possess a complete lack of respect for all but the cleanest Negro they know Calpurnia, whereas the black church harbour only the deepest respect for anyone with fair skin: ‘Brethren and sisters, we are particularly glad to have company with us this morning. Mister and Miss Finch. ‘ This huge gulf between those of different caste reflects in the single greatest moment of prejudice in the novel: Tom Robinson’s conviction. He was only convicted as the evidence relied on a white man’s word against his- in a town as prejudiced as Maycomb, he never stood a chance.
Tom even admitted to ‘feeling sorry for Mayella Ewell’ : this abolishes the stereotypical view harboured by many. How dare a black man feel sorry for a white lady? In Maycomb, this led to his death. Outside the courtroom, Scout views the implications of violence, and recognizes the threat facing Atticus. Yet once again Scout is able to break through the generalisations and prejudices harboured by the people of Maycomb, to the extent that she is able to break to mounting tension created. By being able to view the ‘mob’ as individuals, she singles out Mr. Cunningham: ‘Don’t you remember me, Mr.
Cunningham? I’m Jean Louise Finch. You brought us some hickory nuts one time, remember? ‘â€¦ â€¦Mr. Cunningham was moved to a faint nod. He did know me, after all. ‘ Scout then draws attention to Walter, Mr. Cunningham’s little boy, who happens to be in the same grade as Scout. Without realising it, Scout may inadvertently have made the entire ‘mob’ no longer a ‘mob’, but a group of individuals. Yet this is how Scout views everyone-not as a group, but as individuals. This prompts Mr. Cunningham to turn around, and what was a threatening situation has now been diffused.
A major step in Scout’s social education comes about most probably as a result of Aunt Alexandra’s stay: the evolution of her manners. These did, however, begin with Calpurnia’s teaching a long while before. Calpurnia was, until the arrival of Aunt Alexandra, the only woman present in Scout’s life. As Scout socialises with Jem and Dill, she wants to be like them to be liked by them. She does, though, display instinctive politeness early in the novel: ‘ I tried again: ‘Walter’s one of the Cunninghams, Miss Caroline. ‘ ‘I beg your pardon, Jean Louise? ‘ That’s ok, ma’am, you’ll get to know all the country folks after a whileâ€¦’ Yet the introduction of Aunt Alexandra almost transforms Scout into a young lady who finds the task of escorting Boo Radley to his house a responsibility rather than either a chore, or a death wish as she would have believed at the beginning of the novel. Under her aunts guiding hand, she develops from a young tomboy into a young lady: ‘Don’t you want to grow up to be a lawyer? ‘ Miss Maudie’s hand touched mine and I answered mildly enough, ‘Nome, just a lady. ‘ This particular question shows the addition of another string to Scout’s bow.
Not only is she now polite, and can summon the strength of character to resist provocation, but she can now resist provocation in an extremely polite manner, so as not to offend. In my opinion, however, the single person who shows the change from innocence to experience in Scout the best is her original worst nightmare, Boo Radley. As a result of public gossip, Boo is portrayed for much of the novel as a mythical monster, a basic personification of peoples’ prejudices and unsubstantiated rumours. He is viewed as something to be explored and provoked, to the extent of tormenting.
Although taking a ‘back seat’ in the novel, the theme of Boo Radley seems to be ever-present in Scout’s mind. When in bed with Dill, she cannot seem to help thinking about him: ‘Dill? ‘ ‘Hmm? ‘ ‘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 toâ€¦.? ‘ At the point in the novel where Scout and Jem are saved by Boo, Scout experiences a moment of realisation when she sees his ‘hands that have never seen the sun’. She feels sympathy for Boo, and finally accepts Atticus’ words of wisdom.
From this point in time she feels she can ‘climb into Boo Radley’s skin and walk around in it. ‘ From this adult perspective she is able to see life through Boo’s eyes upon standing on his porch, gaining his perception of the neighbourhood. Having escorted him home, he has changed form almost a monster to a neighbour. This seemingly huge divide crossed between Scout and Boo, it is almost understandable the extent to which Scout matures over the course of the novel. Boo has changed from a monster to a neighbour, Scout has changed from a child into a young lady.