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 events.
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...
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