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Learning and Personal Growth in To Kill a Mockingbird

Through experience, knowledge, and bravery any situation can be controlled and overcome in this work

Conflict is an inevitable part of life. In many cases, these conflicts are between two individuals debating over one specific subject. It is often hard to declare a winner when both people consider their argument to be the correct one. Scout and Jem learn the tools necessary to overcome conflict through personal experience as well as the experiences of other characters in the novel. As a person grows older, conflicts in life become a more regular and more real occurrence. Through experience, knowledge, and bravery any situation can be controlled and overcome as seen in To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

As life goes on, a child gains a great deal of experience through her own doings and those of others. With each new situation, this child is able to better carry his or her way through life. Scout grows up in a small Alabama town, and she contains herself between two houses in her neighborhood: Mrs. Dubose's house (2 doors north) and the Radley place (3 doors south). She and her young playmates start off as clean slates, so they act out other people's experiences to compensate for the lack of their own. "He (Dill, an out of town friend) played the character parts normally thrust upon me--the ape in Tarzan, Mr. Crabtree in The Rover Boys, Mr. Damon in Tom Swift" (Lee 8). This game playing becomes the first sign in the novel that Scout is ready to enter the world of the adult. Scout's first learning experience away from home is at school. "I never deliberately learned to read, but somehow I had been wallowing illicitly in the daily papers,..., reading was something that just came to me" (Lee 17). She is a smart child and has no trouble with the educational learning involved with school, but for the first time, she experiences conflict through the differences in her classmates. As Scout grows older she becomes more curious. She even go so far as to enter the world of the Negro and to go to church with Calpurnia. "First Purchase African M.E. Church was in the quarters outside the southern town limits" (Lee 118). Calpurnia's church is a long way from their original neighborhood barriers, but thanks to Scout's new experience, she will not contain the prejudices held by many of the white townspeople. With each new situation, a great deal of experience is gained, and by the end of the novel, all of the children go to the trial of Tom Robinson. With the trial, Scout officially enters the world of the adult. Games are no longer being played, and she realizes that she has the right to her own opinions. Scout's world and the number of decisions that she is forced to make seem endless compared to the limits and decisions of her youth.

Knowledge determines a victor in every conflict. Even in a losing effort, if something is learned then a conflict can become positive. Only when defeat is ignored can one walk away a lesser person. Scout and Jem conflict the entire novel, usually because of their contrasting stages in life. "Jem was careful to explain that during school hours I was not to bother him,..., in short I was to leave him alone" (Lee 16). Scout doesn't understand why at one point in the day Jem wants to play with her and at the other he will have nothing to do with her. She accepts the situation, and eventually, when she reaches Jem's stage in life, she understands it. Lulu argues with Calpurnia quite frequently, because she is trying desperately to prove to herself that she is not inferior. Lulu says regarding church, "You ain't got no business bringin' white chillun here," and Calpurnia responds, "It's the same God, ain't it" (Lee 119). Calpurnia's wisdom goes far beyond that of Lulu's. Scout gains from this conflict a sense that knowledge equals superiority without prejudice. Dill and Aunt Alexandra have a conflict of interest over family values. Dill "having been bound in chains and left to die" by his father, "had taken thirteen dollars from his mother's purse, caught the nine o'clock from Meridian and got off at Maycomb Junction" (Lee 140). Dill runs from his family in search of happiness and Alexandra runs from happiness to support her status. In this case a child is right, because he is not yet influenced by stereotypes and predilections. Dill is much less experienced, but Alexandra has been negatively influenced on some of the most important aspects of life. For Dill, naivet? became an asset. Finally, Bob Ewell starts controversy whenever possible if it involves his being superior to a Negro. Atticus once said, "There's nothing more sickening to me than a low-grade white man who'll take advantage of a Negro's ignorance" (Lee 221). Scout remembers and tries to live by just about everything her father says. Luckily for her, he is a very positive role model, and she is able to learn from him and his past. Scout is a better person having been involved in conflict (whether it be her own or the conflict of one of her role models). "She's coming along though, Jem's getting older and she follows his example a good bit now" (Lee 88). Aunt Alexandra and Bob Ewell let their prejudices get in the way of their advancements, and, hence, they are worse off than before.

Courage is a hard term to define, but through the correct actions of others, Scout is able to gain a sense of what it means to be courageous. Scout begins the novel by getting into a series of fights, but she learns and grows past these experiences. "My fists were clinched and I was ready to let fly" (Lee 74). After witnessing the adult injustice of her Uncle Jack, she learns that fighting is not the answer. Courage is not the ability to fight, but it is something inside. Several incidents of true courage occur in the novel, and in each case courage does in deed conquer whatever conflict it faces. Miss Maudie faces a devastating fire and cheerfully rebuilds her house. She is brave enough to look at the positive side of all of the destruction. In her case courage is the ability to look past the bad and to try desperately to search for the good. Atticus shoots a mad dog with the greatest of skill. Scout and Jem are never even made aware of the fact that Atticus could shoot a gun. In Atticus' case, courage is the ability to modestly get any job accomplished. Jem takes note of his father's accomplishments and learns from them. He says, "Now Scout, it's something you wouldn't understand,..., Atticus is a gentleman, just like me" (Lee 99). Jem learns the definition of a gentleman by witnessing the courage portrayed by his father. Finally, Mrs. Dubose defeats a painful death so that nothing can tie her down to this world. At first Scout doesn't realize the situation that the old woman is going through, but she later learns and understands why the Mrs. Dubose acts the way that she does. Each of these individuals act as a positive role model for Scout and the other children, and in each case they all become more knowledgeable on the true definition of courage and right.

With age, conflicts become more serious, and it is only through knowledge, experience, and courage that these battles can be won. Conflicts enrich lives and make better human beings. Most importantly, one must enter a situation without prejudice of any sort, "get into their skin". If one will not act and talk but know and learn, then the situation can be overcome without great difficulty. Scout once said, "Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it" (Lee 5). When Scout grows, so does her way of viewing life itself. She gains from her own experiences and from those of her role models. Scout, not unlike the other respected characters in the novel, allows her self to learn, and in return she will for the rest of her life have a great advantage over the Bob Ewells and Aunt Alexandras of the world: she will possess real knowledge.

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