“Now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life, I skin my knees. I bleed.” As the youth grow up and become older, they are no longer cushioned inside their little bubble where everything is done for them and nothing can harm them. Instead, as they begin to mature, they realize the harsh reality of the world they grow up in and must continue to learn the truth. While everyone must go through this change in their life, different people handle the situation at hand in clearly different ways. Both Billy Collins in “On Turning Ten” and Harper Lee’s Jem in To Kill a Mockingbird, explore the idea of the responsibility, presented to children as they grow older, and the hardships outside of the joyous childhood they once had, but they do so in two distinct ways.
Harper Lee brings this idea into her novel through Jem, who makes a realization that he is growing older and discovers the downfalls of what comes with it, while similarly, in Billy Collins’s poem, he dreads what the age of 10 will bring for him. As a young boy, Jem and Scout, his little sister, walk past the Radley house nearly every day to find little trinkets that are hidden in a treehole near the house. They are so caught up in their new discoveries that they find every day, that they don’t realize that it will not last forever. They are only brought back into reality when Mr. Radley “put[s] cement in that hole in that tree,” preventing them from further finding the trinkets in the tree (Chapter 7). Shortly after this is done to them, Jem, deep in thought, stares at the tree from the porch of his house, and “[stands] there until nightfall,” before he comes back inside the house and his sister finds that he “[has] been crying” (Chapter 7). As the hole in the tree is filled, Jem realizes that everything around him, including himself, is growing up and becoming older and older by the day. Things around him, like the tree with the trinkets, won’t be there forever. He himself is also growing up, and with that age, sooner or later he will no longer be provided with these little gifts. In this case, the gifts represent the make-believe and playfulness that children have when they are young.
Children are often blissful and innocent, not realizing the reality of the world that may lie before them. As Jem stands there thinking, he realizes that he can no longer hide away from the responsibilities he must take on as he grows older. In Billy Collins’s poem, he similarly goes into detail of the carefree happiness of his childhood, before ending off with what he believes will be the inescapable stress of growing older. At the start, as a young child playing make-believe and pretend, Billy didn’t have to worry about anything. He could “make [himself] invisible,” he could be “an Arabian wizard,” or “a prince” (Line 14, 13, & 16). He could be whatever he wanted to be.
However, as he is about to step into the age of ten, he ponders everything that lies before him, which makes him feel “like [he’s] coming down with something” (Line 2). As he grows older, he fears that it will be “the beginning of sadness” as he will now have “to say good-bye to [his] imaginary friends” due to his growing age (Line 24 and 26). Outside of the protective bubble of the years before the age of ten, Billy finds that it is possible for him to “bleed” and get hurt (Line 32). Though at an early age Billy, similarly to young Jem with the gifts that he receives, could play pretend without any troubles or worries, as he is about to get a year older, he must take on more responsibilities and can no longer pretend. Not everything will be done for him any longer. He needs to grow up and start acting older. As Billy realizes, there are also now consequences to his actions. If he falls, it is no longer so that nothing happens and he continues to shine bright, but instead, he gets hurt and is forced to accept the consequences of his actions. Although there are positives to getting older, getting older also means that children need to mature and typically leave behind their imaginative world, forced to come to terms with reality, as Billy and Jem find.
On the contrary, while Billy from the poem is immature and complains about his problems, Jem, from the novel matures, learning to tell the truth all while not fussing over his problems. As Jem begins to tell the truth, he also starts to be more considerate of others, “omitting nothing” when he tries to convince his father of anything (Chapter 8). Afterwards, Jem further proves that he is truly maturing and stepping up to the challenge when he stops spreading lies about Boo Radley “‘cut[ting] [his] throat’” and “‘hurt[ing] [them]’” (Chapter 8). As Jem starts to tell the truth and stops spreading the rumors about Boo Radley that he once did, it can evidently be seen that he is growing up. He realizes that the rumours that he once had spread may not be true, and does the mature thing by not continuing to spread these lies. He becomes more thoughtful towards Boo’s feeling, taking note that he may be hurting him by repeating these things that he has heard. However, Billy, on the other hand, continues complaining about all the problems he believes he will experience as he grows older, and does not take into consideration others. He thinks that his change to the age of ten will be an extremely negative one and that it will be “the beginning of sadness” for him (Line 24).
Billy wistfully looks back on his early years describing them as “beautiful” and “perfect” (Lines 10&11). In contrast to his youth and childhood, Billy uses words like “solemnly” and “drained” to describe life as he gets older (Line 19 & 23). While Jem takes on his new role as a teenager and makes changes to welcome his new age, Billy fears what it will bring him. Instead of looking at his new age in a positive, uplifting way, he makes it seem dreary and terrible. He is clearly not mature enough to take the next step into the age of ten nor is he responsible enough. Instead of trying his best to accept this new change and be flexible, he constantly complains about this change that is inevitable for him. While some children are mature enough for their age, others are clearly not and accomplish nothing trying to delay the inescapable.
Thus, while both Billy Collins in “On Turning Ten” and Jem in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird go into detail of the challenges of growing older, while Billy whines about growing up, Jem maturely faces his obstacles and deals with them. Though their age is not that far apart, their mental age is noticeably different. Jem’s mind has developed far more than Billy’s has, causing him to be more composed and flexible to this new change. All the while, Billy only complains and doesn’t do anything to help himself make this adjustment to the reality of the world he lives in and his life. Jem and Billy go through the same change in their life, yet the two of them handle it differently. Although nearly everything was done for them before, now they need to learn how to do things on their own so that they can survive when they become adults. As children all go through these similar changes in their lives, it may be thought that there is a certain or typical way in which children handle it. However, as these two pieces of literature prove, every child is different and deals with change in their own way.