The Theme of Coming of Age in Literature

There comes a time is each person\'s life when they reach the point where
they are no longer children, but adults. The transition from a child into a
young adult is often referred to as the "coming of age," or growing up. The
time when this transition occurs is different in everyone, since everyone is an
individual and no two people are alike. Certain children reach this stage
through a tragic, painful event which affects them to such extent that they are
completely changed. Other children reach this time by simply growing older and
having a better understanding of the world around them. The coming of age
really is indefinite and cannot be marked in general overview. This stage in
life is one of the most important and most popular themes in literature. The
coming of age theme is found in one of the one of the best coming to age stories
that have ever been written. Harper Lee\'s To Kill A Mockingbird is a sensitive
touching portrayal of a young boy who grows up through shocking yet realistic

Although many people are only aware of the coming of age theme through
literature and other forms of entertainment, there is also a very realistic part
to this event in a person\'s life which is often ignored. The coming of age is
an event which is often celebrated in many different cultures, through rituals
or ceremonies. The rituals, also known as passage rites, mark the passing of a
person from one stage of life to the next: birth, infancy, childhood, adulthood,
old age, and death. The coming of age is celebrated along with birth, and death
because it is known as a universal life crises. Evoking anxiety, these crises
often elicit passage rites. Arnold Van Gennep stated that "Passage rituals have
three steps: separation from society; inculcation-transformation; and return to
society in the new status." (1995, Grolier Encyclopedia)

All passage rituals serve certain universal functions. "They serve to
dramatize the encounter of new responsibilities, opportunities, dangers. They
alleviate disruption in the equilibrium of the community. They affirm community
solidarity, and the sacredness of common values." (1995, Grolier Encyclopedia)

In addition, cultures use initiation ceremonies to mark the transition
from childhood to adult status. Rites for males are usually more elaborate and
dramatic and generally involve the community more than do those for females.
Among the African Gusii, for example, girls are at about age nine, boys at
twelve years old; Thonga boys may be sixteen. Boys rites often involve
seclusion from women, hazing by older males, test of manliness, and genital
operations, including circumcision. Girls rites are just as bad if not worse
with things like removal of the clitoris. In some places in North America, the
ritual is individual where as in Africa and Oceania the ritual can be collective.
A plain Indian adolescent boy undertakes a vision quest; he goes out alone into
the wilderness, endures hardship, and seeks a vision from his animal guardian
spirit; if he gets one, he returns a man.

Yet a different way for these rituals is group rituals. These often
takes months or even years, as among many Australian aboriginal tribes. Novices
learn great quantities of information and obey countless taboos. Instructors
are men who are strangers to boys. Ritual pulls the boy from childhood,
especially from his mother. He moves from the category of women and privileged
children toward the privileged one of the adult males. Such rites maintain
adult male togetherness and strengthen cultural continuity. They resolve boys
conflicts about sexual identity and establish clear attitudes toward fathers and
mothers. Such rites dramatize the power of older over younger males and state
that "only women can make babies: but only men can make men." (1995, Grolier
Encyclopedia) Such passage rites symbolize death of the child and rebirth as a
man, as well as male envy of females. Versions in modern Western society
includes religious, confirmation, fraternity initiation, and military training.

In addition to the different ways that culture celebrates the coming of
age it is also one of the worlds most popular and beloved themes in literature.
"The Circus" is a touching story about a man\'s kindness and how the realization
of this played an important part of his son\'s coming age. In Dan Clark\'s "The
Circus" , it is obvious how this young man realizes what being kind really means.
Clark states that "We didn\'t go to the Circus that night but we didn\'t go
without." (1995, pg. 4) quote demonstrates that the young man realizes that it
is more important to be