The course of growing up is always influenced by the people around you, since the people in your environment are vital in shaping the person you will become. Harper Lee demonstrates this reality in the classic tale To Kill a Mockingbird, through the eyes of a six year-old Scout and a ten year-old Jem in the racially-tense Southern town of Maycomb during the Great Depression. Both Scout and Jem are exposed to different influences from very important people in their lives. They encountered positive and negative influences that taught them important things about the world they live in. Each influence makes Scout and Jem expand their knowledge of their surroundings and think differently about the society they live, discovering in the process how racism and social class infect the foundation of Maycomb County.
In the novel, Atticus is perhaps the most important factor in Scout and Jem’s growth and maturity. Atticus is not only their father, but also a state legislator and lawyer who sets a fine example to his children by doing what he believes is right regardless of what everyone else thinks. He also encourages his children to follow his footsteps of doing the right thing as well. An example of this is when he was speaking with Uncle Jack said that he hopes that “Jem and Scout come to me for answers come to me for their answers instead of listening to the town” (88). Atticus meant that he wanted Jem and Scout to not become ignorant and narrow minded like the rest of Maycomb. Instead, Atticus hopes that they will become more educated about their society. Atticus also hopes that they grow up to know the racial and social injustice of the home they live in. Another important example that impacted Scout and Jem the most is when he took the case to defend the Negro, Tom Robinson. During that time, Jim Crows disallowed a white man to defend a black person. The Southern philosophy was that black people were at the bottom of the social pyramid, so taking the case was not mandatory. Before Tom Robinson’s trial, Atticus explains to Jem that true courage is “when you know you’re licked before you begin” (134). Atticus knew that he wasn’t going to win the case but did it because he knew it was right. Atticus has played a major role in his children’s growth because of his noble character and what he does because of his beliefs.
Another vital influence in Jem and Scout’s lives is Atticus’ polar opposite and sister, Aunt Alexandra. When Aunt Alexandra is introduced in the novel, she is depicted as the typical “southern belle”. She demonstrates this clearly when she arrives at the Finch’s and tells Scout that “It would be best for you to have some female influence” (69). It was revealed that Aunt Alexandra wanted to change the Finch children into her own image as ladies and gentlemen when she convinced Atticus to talk to them about their upbringings and gentle breeding. The children see through this ploy, and knew immediately that Alexandra put him up to this. Such artificiality makes Aunt Alexandra a less than desirable influence on the two children.
The last and one of the most important in Scout and Jem’s life is Calpurnia. Calpurnia is a caretaker and an important member of the Finch family. In the novel, Calpurnia has helped Atticus to raise the children since their mother died when Scout was two. Unlike Aunt Alexandra, Calpurnia teaches the children to treat everybody the same, no matter what race or where they are in the social pyramid. An example that strongly backs this evidence is when Walter Cunningham was invited to dinner at the Finch’s. Scout was disgusted by Walter’s actions at the dinner table and berates him. An angry Calpurnia lectures Scout and tells her that “Don’t matter who they are… and don’t you let me catch you remarkin’ their ways like you was so high and mighty! You folks might be better… but it doesn’t count for nothin’ the way you’re disgracin’ ‘em…” (25). Calpurnia also believes in equality and that all races can work together. Another proof of this is when she brought Scout and Jem to the Colored Church. Calpurnia had no problem bringing along another race and knew that doing so was the right thing to do, even when others didn’t. Her similarity to Atticus as a broad-minded figure made her an ideal influence for both Scout and Jem.
The events and experiences in Maycomb County did play a leading role in Scout’s and Jem’s maturity at the end of Lee’s novel. However, in a way, the direct influences of authority figures played an equally significant part as well. Atticus impacted Scout’s and Jem’s thinking and knowledge on the society. Aunt Alexandra, despite her flaws, taught them about the social pyramid and how they are expected to act and behave as the “higher class.” For her part, Calpurnia enlightened them on the racial and prejudicial laws that mark Maycomb.