It is undeniable that every person goes through several severe changes in their lifetime. These changes are chemical; they cannot be controlled. What can be controlled, however, is accepting these changes. If people understand this, why are so many blind to reality and still stuck in their childhood illusions? One must understand that going through these changes is a painful process. Some don’t know how to accept that life isn’t a fairytale; they’re incapable of handling the world for all it truly is. Some experience too much pain to think about it. Some choose to reject the reality of life, being that life will very rarely hand them everything they want. The uncertainty of change makes everyone uncomfortable. This causes crime, hate, and injustice to be quite difficult to accept for the average person. Yet, everyone goes through a time of growth in order to experience these moments of realization. As painful as these realization points can be, they’re necessary for lone survival and independence and they even leave a person in a state of disillusionment. Self-realization is “the act of achieving the full development of your abilities and talents” according to The Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Self-realization is only possible when people break out of the common world of innocence and become more experienced in the world. All of the aspects of gaining a mature identity and losing innocence are so complex and in depth that many fight about it and spend years of their lives trying to simply understand it themselves. Although many have strongly conflicting views about the unknown, everyone can agree that the contemplation of reality and fantasy, the re-evaluation of one’s true self, and the process of loss of innocence are extremely complex and personalized human processes.
Some people come to terms with who they are as an ugly truth or they don’t even come to terms with themselves at all, as they are afraid to face the reality of their identity, choices, or experiences. This is apparent in the short story Araby by James Joyce. The story starkly details the emotional and mental coming of age for a young German boy who remains unnamed throughout the story. The story revolves around the boy’s childhood illusions of being ‘in love’ with a girl only known as Mangan’s sister. He only sees Mangan’s sister as parts; flowing hair or the curve of a dress, not as a whole being in which he loves every part of. He is simply lusting over her, a fact to which he doesn’t realize until the end of the story when he comes to the realization that he cannot love yet. When “She held one of the spikes” (124) and tilted her head towards him while they were speaking about the Bazaar was a quite obvious phallic symbol, proving that she is using him for the one thing he wants, love. He goes through this childish illusion until he realizes that she’s been playing him for a fool, in which he partially goes through a change of maturity. This partial transformation is perfectly exemplified at the end of the story with the narrator “Gazing up into the darkness” as his “eyes burned with anguish and anger” (126) It is at this moment that the protagonist is thrown out of the fantasy that he was living in throughout the whole story and realizes that life isn’t what he wanted it to be, that not everyone will be nice to him, that love isn’t around every corner, and that people will try to cheat him. The reason that this is only a partial maturity is because he did indeed question his belief, one of the large hallmarks for a successful coming of age, but he also missed two of them. Seeing as how it’s quite apparent towards the end of the story that the boy is the narrator, more becomes clear about him. He failed to laugh at himself and, more importantly, forgive himself. Even as an adult looking back on his life, he’s still bitter and cynical about the situation. The boy’s action and experience show that some never go through the hallmarks of coming of age because of the fear of seeing that they failed or the fear of seeing who they truly are.
Others take a look at who they are, and are unsatisfied which leads to efforts of reinvention to better themselves, or be happier with who they are. In the story A & P by John Updike, Sammy is cashier in a grocery store when three girls dressed in only bathing suits walk into his store. At the end of the story, his manager comes in and demands that they leave the store, as he considers their dress indecent and against store policy, which Sammy claims “is what the kingpins want” and that anything else “is juvenile delinquency” (93). This act of bitterness from his boss is what prompts Sammy to quit his job at A & P. He felt unsatisfied working for someone that embarrassed young people the way his boss did. So he took the initiative in changing his life by quitting. He does not want to lead a life of blind conformity, which is what he sees around him as he “could see Lengel in” his “place in the slot, checking the sheep through.” (94) He believes there are two types of adults, pigs and sheep, which is where a shred of ignorance shows itself. Despite this ignorance, he matures by questioning authority, but fails to question his beliefs.
However, some people have true success in their coming of age, leaving themselves and everyone around them happier. In The Storm by Kate Chopin, the two main characters were successful in their coming of age in an unexpected way. The story opens with the main female character, Calixta, unaware of the impending storm. Her husband and son are out, and she is seen first “sewing furiously” (835), illuminating her dissatisfaction of her current situation. She doesn’t want to be in her home; she is frustrated and filled with unfulfilled desires. Alcee, an ex-lover of hers, rides up to the house and asks if he may “wait on [her] gallery till the storm is over” (836) and enters the residence. Alcee pulled Calixta’s husband’s trousers and son’s clothes off of the clothing line, symbolizing his movement into the home and place of the father and husband. After a burst of sexual tension, they proceed to go into the bedroom that contains the white marriage bed. This illustration of the white sheets shows the innocence and purity of the marriage bed. The shutters in the bedroom were closed, closing the rest of the world out. It was just the two of them, and as symbolized by the brewing storm, they made love. Under the idea of the church and the general consensus of the public at this time, this was bad. They both broke their vows to their partners, and in the wedding bed none the less. But during and after making love, Calixta was described as a “creamy lily”, implying she was still pure and happy. This whole situation was Calixta’s and Alcee’s sexual coming of age, acquired without vile terms or trickery, they learned for the first time their birth right to be happy, filled with pleasure, and sexually independent. The way this stands out as a true transformation is be their lack of apologies or guilt and the happiness and love they brought back to their own families. Everyone in the story benefited by these maturities; these was no hurt or deceit, just pleasure and love. Retrospectively, there are many ways one can handle the four major hallmarks for a successful coming of age. These hallmarks being the ability to question one’s own beliefs, to challenge authority, to laugh at oneself, and to forgive oneself. They can simply reject these steps, and not like what they see or remain in a childish haze, they can see these childish problems and attempt to better themselves, or they can go through a smooth transition and truly be happy with their matured selves. Although many have strongly conflicting views about the unknown, everyone can agree that the contemplation of fact and fantasy, the realization of one’s own reality, and the process of loss of innocence are extremely complex and personalized human processes. As Roman Payne once wrote, “Never did the world make a queen of a girl who hides in houses and dreams without traveling” meaning that without experience, one cannot hope to mature.