To Kill a Mockingbird

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Growing Up Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Good, Evil, and Human Dignity Theme Icon
Prejudice Theme Icon
Growing Up Theme Icon
Courage Theme Icon
Small Town Southern Life Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in To Kill a Mockingbird, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Growing Up Theme Icon

In the three years covered by To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout and Jem grow up. At the start of the book they are innocents, with an uncomplicated sense of what's good (Atticus, the people of Maycomb) and what's evil (Boo Radley). By the end of the book, the children have lost their innocence and gained a more complex understanding of the world, in which bad and good are present and visible in almost everyone. As the children grow into the adult world, though, they don't just accept what they see. They question what doesn't make sense to them—prejudice, hatred, and violence. So while To Kill a Mockingbird shows three children as they lose their innocence, it also uses their innocence to look freshly at the world of Maycomb and criticize its flaws.

Like every kid growing up, Scout attends school for the first time. But rather than contribute to her education, Scout's school is depicted as rigid to the point of idiocy, with teachers who criticize students who got on early start on reading and hate the Nazis but can't see the racism present in their own town. To Kill a Mockingbird does not so much explore standardized school education as condemn it, showing how it emphasizes rote facts and policies designed to create conformist children rather than promote creative critical thinking, sympathy, and mutual understanding across racial and socioeconomic boundaries.

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Growing Up Quotes in To Kill a Mockingbird

Below you will find the important quotes in To Kill a Mockingbird related to the theme of Growing Up.
Chapter 10 Quotes
After my bout with Cecil Jacobs when I committed myself to a policy of cowardice, word got around that Scout Finch wouldn't fight any more, her daddy wouldn't let her.
Related Characters: Jean Louise Finch (Scout) (speaker), Atticus Finch (speaker), Cecil Jacobs
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:

Scout has long prided herself on what she has considered to be courage: refusing to back down when others insult her or her family, and fighting as strongly as she can. But she has slowly come to accept Atticus's quite different view of courage. For him, courage does not only mean striving for something when you knows that failure is inevitable; it also means having the strength of character to accept what others may say about you without physically fighting back. Instead, he teaches that keeping your head held high, confident of what the right decision really is.

Scout still uses the word "cowardice" to refer to her decision not to fight, but the word is mainly a relic of her instinctive attitude towards courage – she is slowly beginning to accept her father's alternative approach instead. 


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"Atticus, you must be wrong...."

"How's that?"

"Well, most folks seem to think they're right and you're wrong...."
Related Characters: Jean Louise Finch (Scout) (speaker), Tom Robinson
Page Number: 139
Explanation and Analysis:

In the small, tight-knit town of Maycomb, what "most folks seem to think" can quickly come to mean what is actually true. Such "group think" and the pressure it puts on individuals to join in it help to preserve and expand all sorts of prejudice. Here we see such logic at work, as Scout questions her father's choices based on what most people in the town think about those choices.

Scout is still struggling to reconcile these two things: it's difficult for her to see how "most folks" can be wrong, since it makes sense that what the majority thinks about something must be right – especially in a town small enough that it can seem like everyone thinks the same way about something, such as the Tom Robinson case. But the ellipses (three dots after Scout's sentences) seem to suggest that Scout is not at all confident in going against her father: she understands that there are elements at work that she may not have yet understood.

Chapter 14 Quotes
Dill's eyes flickered at Jem, and Jem looked at the floor. Then he rose and broke the remaining code of our childhood. He went out of the room and down the hall. "Atticus," his voice was distant, "can you come here a minute, sir?"

Beneath its sweat-streaked dirt Dill's face went white. I felt sick.

Jem was standing in a corner of the room, looking like the traitor he was. "Dill, I had to tell him," he said. "You can't run three hundred miles off without your mother knowin'."

We left him without a word.
Related Characters: Jeremy Atticus Finch (Jem) (speaker), Jean Louise Finch (Scout), Atticus Finch, Charles Baker Harris (Dill)
Page Number: 187-188
Explanation and Analysis:

Dill has run away from his own house in a town that is quite some distance away, and has snuck into the Finch's home, where Jem has found him hiding under the bed. As Scout watches, Jem calls to their father in order to tell him that Dill is here. Immediately, a line is drawn between Jem, on the one hand, and Scout and Dill, on the other.

Scout takes it for granted that one must never tell on another child – that there are secrets that can't be shared with adults. Jem, however, no longer adheres to this assumption: instead, he acts based on the knowledge that Dill's parents will be worried about him, and that it's the right thing to do to tell Atticus that Dill is here. From Scout's perspective, Jem is a traitor, but this is because she is still a child, while he has begun to grow up. The book doesn't necessarily paint adulthood as always better and more advanced than childhood, but it does suggest that moving into adulthood is an important step, one that Scout isn't yet ready to take.

Chapter 16 Quotes
"Well how do you know we ain't Negroes?"

"Uncle Jack Finch says we really don't know. He says as far as he can trace back the Finches we ain't, but for all he knows we mighta come straight out of Ethiopia durin' the Old Testament."

"Well if we came out durin' the Old Testament it's too long ago to matter."

"That's what I thought," said Jem, "but around here once you have a drop of Negro blood, that makes you all black."
Related Characters: Jean Louise Finch (Scout) (speaker), Jeremy Atticus Finch (Jem)
Page Number: 216
Explanation and Analysis:

Amid the excitement around the trial that's about to start, Jem and Scout talk about their own family history. In Scout's childhood innocence, once again, it becomes clear just how silly it is to seek to draw hard-and-fast borders between races, and to proclaim moral differences based on something so fragile. After all, every human being, ultimately, originated from Africa, and not only can one can never with any certitude trace one's own family history back in order to prove racial "purity" – the very idea of racial purity, as this passage shows, is simply absurd. 

Jem, slightly older than Scout, is aware both of how senseless the idea of racial purity is, as well as how entrenched an idea it is in this small town anyway. The idea that even one small "drop" of blackness makes you black – that is, according to the town's logic, morally inferior – gives the townspeople a black-and-white way to look at racial relations, and a pseudo-scientific definition to bolster their own prejudice. 

Chapter 19 Quotes
“The way that man called him 'boy' all the time an' sneered at him, an' looked around at the jury every time he answered— … It ain't right, somehow it ain't right to do 'em that way. Hasn't anybody got any business talkin' like that—it just makes me sick."
Related Characters: Charles Baker Harris (Dill) (speaker), Tom Robinson, Mr. Gilmer
Page Number: 266
Explanation and Analysis:

Dill has begun to cry in the courtroom during the trial of Tom Robinson, so Scout takes him outside. They had been listening to the prosecutor Mr. Gilmer's cross-examination of Tom Robinson. Gilmer – making little attempt to introduce hard evidence with which to convict the defendant – has been essentially trying to bait the jury into succumbing to racism in order to convict him. Dill cannot stand to hear the way Mr. Gilmer is talking to Tom Robinson: for him, the lawyer is essentially treating Tom as a different, inferior species. 

An advantage of having a child narrate To Kill A Mockingbird, and in having other children populate the novel, is that we as readers can look with fresh eyes at appalling prejudices in American society. We may be in danger of growing accustomed to these prejudices, of assuming that they are simply the way the world works. Part of Dill's distraught feelings stem from the dawning realization, as he and Scout grow up, that this is the way the world works: but the way in which he rebels against what is given reminds us of the danger of becoming complacent, and forgetting just how shocking such prejudices really are.

Chapter 22 Quotes
They've done it before and they did it tonight and they'll do it again and when they do it—seems that only children weep.
Related Characters: Atticus Finch (speaker)
Page Number: 285
Explanation and Analysis:

Jem tells Atticus that he can't understand how the jury could have convicted Tom Robinson based on the evidence and based on the arguments from Atticus and from Mr. Gilmer. Here, Atticus implicitly returns to what he told his children at the very beginning, and has repeated again and again: that good will won't necessarily conquer evil, and that sometimes prejudice will win out over both evidence and human dignity. 

While Atticus has done his best to educate Jem and Scout so that they lose some of the weaknesses and errors of childhood, here he shows himself to be convinced that childhood holds some major moral advantages over adulthood. Children are still innocent enough – they still have been little enough affected by the world – to be able to notice and be devastated when something unjust happens. Unlike adults, they have not yet learned to grow bitter or even just used to the way things are. This state of shock and anger, Atticus implies, is a powerful reminder for adults not to become complacent.

Chapter 25 Quotes
[Jem] was certainly never cruel to animals, but I had never known his charity to embrace the insect world.

"Why couldn't I mash him?" I asked.

"Because they don't bother you," Jem answered in the darkness. He had turned out his reading light.
Related Characters: Jean Louise Finch (Scout) (speaker), Jeremy Atticus Finch (Jem) (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Mockingbird
Page Number: 320
Explanation and Analysis:

Scout has been poking at a roly-poly bug, preparing to smash it, but Jem has stopped her. She pays attention to him because he's her older brother, but she's also confused as to why he has forbidden her this game. However, by the end of the passage Scout (as well as we readers) should recognize the parallel that Jem is making. He is expanding the definition of "mockingbird" to include any living creature that cannot defend itself, that should be protected rather than destroyed. By only applying the lesson of the mockingbird to some things – people rather than animals, for instance – the significance and power of this attitude is lost.

Once again, as Jem and Scout both grow up over the course of the story, in some ways Jem leads Scout. Several years older than her, he must grapple with the lessons about good, evil, and how to treat other people on his own, even as his sister slowly comes to understand what he does as well.

Chapter 31 Quotes
When they finally saw him, why he hadn't done any of those things . . . Atticus, he was real nice. . . ." His hands were under my chin, pulling up the cover, tucking it around me. "Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them." He turned out the light and went into Jem's room. He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.
Related Characters: Jean Louise Finch (Scout) (speaker), Atticus Finch (speaker), Jeremy Atticus Finch (Jem), Arthur Radley (Boo)
Page Number: 376
Explanation and Analysis:

Back at the family home, Scout tries to explain to Atticus what she has realized about Boo Radley: that all the suspicious rumors and prejudice against him actually have no basis in fact. Atticus is not shocked by this revelation. Indeed, he has told the children not to judge people before they stand in their shoes not so that they wait to judge until they understand better, but rather so that they learn that they have little right to judge at all. Atticus believes deeply that most people are good at heart, but are led astray by prejudice and by temptation. He is not naive – he does recognize the existence of evil in the world that must be fought against – but for him this evil is not located permanently in specific people but rather moves around, always able to insert itself in a given situation, but always able to be challenged as well.

Scout and Jem have, through the events of the novel. learned to take such a subtle approach to good and evil as well. They have lost much of their childhood innocence as a result. Still, having gained these difficult lessons, they are still in a transition period between childhood and adulthood. Atticus's great gift to them is to accompany them through this transition, watching over them as they make it.