Coming of Age Term Paper

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Coming of Age

The theme of coming of age is common in literature and drama of all sorts, showing either how an adolescent moves from childhood into adulthood, or at least how a young person gains awareness of him or herself and of their relationship to the world in which they live. Such a theme can be found in all cultures, and the way the theme is expressed in both the developed and the developing world shows certain commonalities, as can be seen in an analysis of several works from different countries, showing how the theme is also tied to a critique of the social order in which these young people live in each case.

Khaled Hosseini in his novel the Kite Runner tells the story of the coming of age of two friends who have been raised in the same household and who then go their separate ways. Though raised in the same household, they are from different social strata. They are tied together even as they go their separate ways and live very different lives, and one element holding them together is guilt over an incident in childhood as one friend lets the other down at a key moment in their lives. Amir and Hassan are the two friends, with Amir the son of a wealthy family, and Hassan the son of a servant in the wealthy family's household. The two boys are much alike, but there is always an invisible separation between them, a division by social class that transcends many of the bonds that otherwise hold them together.Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Amir would like to view this friendship as having no barriers. The novel is told form his point-of-view, so what he thinks about these issues is quite clear. Hassan is seen more from a distance, yet some of his ideas are also evident in the odd way he has of agreeing with Amir while also seeking to disappear for a moment first, as if shrinking into his own world, a world with a different if hidden point-of-view. This behavior marks him as the son of a servant and so as one who simply cannot feel free to express himself as an equal. This separates him from Amir. While Amir might be able to see himself as above the fray in this regard and as able to accept Hassan as an equal, in fact he does not. This becomes clear when he fails to help Hassan when the latter is attacked by some older boys from Amir's class and Amir does not step forward to support his friend. This moment will be the keystone for the rest of the novel, contributing to the moves Amir makes first to California to escape from his shame, then back to Afghanistan when he finds he cannot escape it and instead seeks to atone for it. Hassan reacts to the slight by changing his view of the world, immersing himself in the social and religious beliefs of the Taliban, becoming an official in that regime and so, for Amir, an enemy of the Afghan people and of himself.

Throughout, the social divisions of Afghanistan play a strong role in defining each boy and man and in setting the course each must follow. The boys come from different classes, and this is a defining element that overcomes even their friendship and affection for one another. Amir may wish that such divisions did not keep them apart, but they do. They are solidified in different ways in each regime in Afghanistan, with the royal period shaped one way, the invasion period another, and the Taliban era in still another, during which the ruling Taliban impose their will and punish all who seem different in any way. Amir may believe that his own social class was superior, but it did much the same without the violence and religious fervor of the Taliban. In both cases, though, the primary result was separation and conflict.

In the film Sugar Cane Alley (Euzhan Palcy, 1984), the filmmaker examines a colonial society by looking at the development of one young boy who grows up in this society but who has the intellectual capacity to escape from it, with his route to a better life being the education his grandmother has worked hard for him to have. The film makes the nature of this society into something personal, doing so in a way that reaches out to different audiences.

The viewer is introduced to a society that is unfamiliar and learns quickly about the rules for living in this time and place through the actions of the boy, events occurring to others in the village, and the plans made by the grandmother for her grandson. The style of living is harsh and dedicated to scratching out a subsistence living from the work and from the trades that can be made with neighbors. Palcy creates a strong image of this world and than contrasts it with the world of the colonial power in the nearby city, showing how such a power is fed by people it otherwise ignores.

This film was made from a novel called La rue cases-Negres by Joseph Zobel. Euzhan Palcy said of this book,

In my mind, it was urgent to make a movie of this story... Zobel's book was a great revelation and shock because all of our books are about France. It was the first time I read a book written by a black man of our country about the fruits of our country ("Sugar Cane Alley").

The film she has made tells the story of Jose, and in one sense, then, it is a simple story of growing up, with a little boy who is poor, gets an education, and goes on to a brighter future. At another level, the film tells the story of a group of people and their relationships. Jose stands at the center of this group, and each character is defined largely by his or her connection to Jose. Two of the characters, Ma Tine and Medouze, help shape the film. They not only see to his two "educations" but are also pivotal thematically and structurally. In addition, Sugar Cane Alley is a politically conscious film. The political and cultural issues may seem to have been softened or subdued by the prevalence of the boy's story, but the racial, economic, and class circumstances in Martinique are portrayed very clearly and in a highly critical way.

The film achieves power through understatement and does not try to paint the system as blacker than it is or create a happy ending to undercut the issues raised. The filmmakers present the people as they are -- they live, they work, and they play. The degree to which the audience may find fault with this world develops from the way the viewer will compare the life of the plantation to his or her own. The workers are clearly exploited, and though slavery has ended, as the Old Man tells the boy, the result is only the same system in a different form. The people are still enslaved by their economic and political powerlessness. Twelve-Toes says he needs money and asks how he can live without money, and this is indeed what faces all his neighbors as well.

The theme is explored in a somewhat less direct manner in the European context in Milan Kundera's novel the Unbearable Lightness of Being, with the young woman in the story not being as young as the characters in the other books. Tereza is a teenager at the beginning of the story and is viewed as an innocent, defined in the novel in temrs of her relationship to Tomas, the experienced intellectual with a strong streak of cynicism. This is amore overtly philosophical novel than the other works discussed, using Tomas's ideas about the contrast between lightness and heaviness. He himself represents heaviness, while Tereza is the best example of lightness. Her lightness appeals to his heaviness, as it were, and his love for her changes his way of life to a great degree, though he never truly abandons his more unfaithful way of life.

Tereza is described as a child, and for Tomas she certainly is, a pure being who represents something he has lost in his own life and may regain to a degree just by being near her. Her experience with Tomas changes her, and yet it does not alter her basic innocence and her view of herself as weaker than he. In a sense, she gains heaviness as the story progresses, but not in the way that he represents. Instead, her heaviness is that of self-sacrifice, as when she leaves him not as an assertion of her own sense of what is right for her but because she believes she is holding him back.

The shifts in lightness and heaviness in this novel are complex and at times difficult to understand, and the political element that is seen here is also more complex and in… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Coming of Age" Term Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Coming of Age.  (2007, April 24).  Retrieved September 18, 2020, from

MLA Format

"Coming of Age."  24 April 2007.  Web.  18 September 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"Coming of Age."  April 24, 2007.  Accessed September 18, 2020.