Coming of Age: the Hard Truths Untold
Children who first learn to ride a bicycle are always prone to accidents on the first try and end up falling and scraping their knees or elbows. They cry at first but shake themselves off and climb back on their bicycles to try again and hopefully get it right. No matter what experiences people go through, in some form or another, those experiences help to develop deeper comprehension. Coming of age is a life-long journey, but it is mostly experienced at a young age and plays an important role in becoming an adult. People will undergo trials and tribulations filled with different emotions, and only after the fact will fully understand the importance of coming of age from these experiences. In Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, Lee uses the perspective of her characters Scout and Jem to express the idea that one must accept difficult truths about life in order to come of age.
Through receiving life lessons from their father, Atticus, as well as the experiences in Maycomb, Scout and Jem learn to consider others’ points of view and stories. This lesson comes especially from their neighbor Boo Radley, a kind-hearted person who is just different. According to Jem, Boo is rumored to be “[…] about six-and-a-half feet tall- he dine[s] on raw squirrels and any cats he [can] catch, that’s why his hands [are] bloodstained- if you [eat] an animal raw, you [can] never wash the blood off. There [is] a long jagged scar that [runs] across his face; what teeth he ha[s] [are] yellow and rotten; his eyes pop, and he drool[s] most of the time” (Lee 16). The Maycomb citizens, including Scout and Jem in the beginning, think that Boo Radley is a person who is crazy and is too frightening to be around. Towards the climax of the Boo’s story, Scout and Jem start to truly see Boo for who he is, a normal human being, and not the person of rumors the townspeople made up. By the end, Scout realizes that “Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough” (374). The story comes to a conclusion in which Scout and Jem have matured and learned to respect and treat others with acceptance of who they are as individuals.
Children who experience challenges learn to grow, especially when they have help from parents, educators, or mental health professionals to guide them. The coming of age poem On Turning Ten talks about a speaker, a child turning ten, and the struggles of realizing he is no longer a child. He says, “It seems only yesterday I used to believe/ there was nothing under my skin but light./ If you cut me I could shine./ But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,/ I skin my knees. I bleed” (Collins 28-32). The light symbolizes innocence or goodness- and he now realizes that, like all people, he is, in fact, flawed. The boy then says that when he used to get cut it was usually from doing something fun, but now when he walks on the path of life and skins his knee, he doesn’t shine anymore, but just bleeds, meaning that he lost the innocence of being a child and now sees the world for what it truly is by experiencing real pain. Through this poem, Collin demonstrates the hardships children experience when transitioning from youth to adulthood, but with the help of parental figures, children’s transition could go a lot smoother and more maturely. In Defining Success in the Transition to Adulthood, the author suggests that “Preparing all youth for meaningful, productive futures requires coordinated efforts and intentional practices by adults across all the settings youth inhabit on a daily basis” (Pao 6). Children who have a cohesive relationship with parents or any parental figure really goes a long way for them because they have a model to look up to and learn from so they know what to do in different situations and use those tools later on in life.
Arguments that are contrary to this view must be recognized and analyzed, which include the idea that coming of age is not always universally recognized as overcoming problems and challenges but is more of a cultural or religious celebration of turning a certain age. In Coming of Age Has Different Meanings by Culture, the author explains that “Most cultures and religions have specific events, ceremonies, or celebrations associated with coming of age. Depending upon your cultural and/or religious background, your child may celebrate one or more of these […] Bar or Bat Mitzvah, Confirmation, Quinceanera, Sweet 16” (O’Donnell 1). Through these cultures and religions coming of age is determined at a certain age when a child is no longer considered a minor and at which point they have celebrations involving families and the community. However, there are so many more factors that go into one’s maturity rather than just the reaching of a certain age. Mother Megan Rubiner Zinn whos son is having Bar Mitzvah says, “The various cultures that created coming-of-age rituals knew what they were doing, and it’s not surprising that the rituals have maintained a place in the modern world. At this cusp of the teen years, when kids are excited and afraid to be adults, when they try out new personalities by the day, when their sense of self may be dictated by their peers and the media, they have an accomplishment that is all theirs. It need not be a religious or cultural ritual, just a challenging, adult responsibility” (Zinn 1). In the case of these celebrations, kids take on responsibilities and challenges that require practice and perseverance since these events in front of the family and community put pressure on them. From these experiences, young adults can tackle situations in the real world, whether that be in the classroom or later on in life when they get jobs, they can look back and see how much they accomplished.
In order to mature and grow as a person, one needs to realize the world is not perfect and not always easy or fair. Scout and Jem learn to understand Boo Radley in their own way and truly see him for who he is and how he treats them. With help from their father, they learn life lessons that help them grow as individuals and not listen to what negative things other people say or think. With the guidance of an adult, a child’s coming of age can seem less harsh and scary and shows what life truly is, which sometimes is not always miserable even though it can feel like it at times but with that the right support and knowledge, it can seem a little brighter. Though some cultures and religions view coming of age differently, in the end, they all administer the same principles of learning, maturing, and taking responsibility so they can grow and use these skills that they learned from this experience and apply them in the future and everyday life. Coming of age is a time in which one learns about the world around them. They will see and experience many things, whether that be easy or tough, that will influence their everyday lives, which will help them grow stronger in the future.