Adulthood may be defined as the state of being fully mature or fully grown. It is crucial to any human being for it is characterized by attainment of full legal and social burdens. As such, a person who is regarded as an adult ought to be self- sufficient, responsible and independent. Also, failure to adhere to the law at this age attracts dire consequences as the defaulter may be subjected to full legal force. While the definition of adulthood converges to the above definition universally, different societies have different views on what adults should do and how they should behave in the society. As such, the perspective of adulthood, without a doubt, shifts to conform to the various norms and values of their respective societies.
In history, the main indication of adulthood was the onset of reproductive capacity or rather a posterity. Young adults in most societies were subjected to a rite of passage that marked the end of their childhood and the beginning of adulthood (Settersten et al. 3). The rite of passage differed among societies. This view of adulthood lasted until the nineteenth century where compulsory schooling emerged. The emergence of compulsory schooling resorted to a different view, where puberty was dismissed as a marker of adulthood. As such, due to the new developments, puberty marked the transition from childhood to the adolescence stage.
On the other hand, adulthood since the mid-twentieth century has been associated with the attainment or acquisition of responsibilities and social roles. The two are best summarized as the traditional big five, which are; finishing school, finding a job, leaving the parent’s home, getting married and finally having and raising children. With the five markers in place, economic independence comes as a necessity. People considered as adults are expected to pursue economic independence since both parenthood and marriage require finances (Settersten et al. 3). Hence, due to the massive responsibilities, adults have to seek economic empowerment through working.
Adulthood is viewed differently under a psychological view. It is marked by a sense of responsibility, becoming financially independent, and making sound decisions independently. These abilities reflect abstract components of adulthood, among them being personal control, independence, responsibility, and maturity (Settersten et al. 3). The aforementioned adulthood components can be summarized as the characteristics that define adulthood in accordance with the society’s norms. Furthermore, looking at various contributions by literary writers brings out another adulthood perspective where it depends on the society
Franz Kafka’s novel, The Trial, is an engrossing and evocative novel. The novel vastly tackles the issue of adulthood by painting an image of what adulthood really meant in the society at the time it was written. First and foremost, from the title of the novel, The Trial, it is quite clear what adulthood entailed. Being an adult meant facing huge trials that further prepared one to embrace adulthood successfully. One of the characters, Joseph K., who is also the main character, is used as a perfect example of what the title means.
As previously mentioned, adulthood is an age where one is subjected to the law. According to the novel, Joseph K. is accused of a crime. He, however, doesn’t know which crime he is accused of committing. Despite being unaware of the crime that he is accused of, Joseph has to face the law like any other adult within the society. The novel further notes that Joseph makes new friends who have been in the same situation as his in an effort to solve his court case (Fickert 349). This instance indicates that adults in this society were subjected to a criminal justice system, whether the crimes they were accused were proved or not.
In addition, awareness and knowledge usually characterize adulthood in the society. The novel brings out a very unfortunate situation where the adult and the main character is very much unaware of the legal system. According to the novel, when Joseph is arraigned in court for his case to be heard and determined, he attempts to have the matter expatiated with the hope that his trial will be over in a day. He, however, realizes that the court proceedings cannot be brushed off as easily as he thought. Besides, Joseph becomes increasingly aware of what he is being accused of as his case progresses.
Furthermore, adulthood in the society is a state where a person in that stage is expected to have problem-solving skills. In Kafka’s novel, Joseph is met by the challenge of being accused of a crime he did not commit. At this point, Joseph tries to overcome this challenge through attempting to rush the court proceedings. However, after realizing that he cannot do so, Joseph changes his approach. He becomes acquainted with other people who have been in the same position as his in an attempt to solve the legal problem facing him.
In any case, adults in the society are portrayed as socially mature beings, who can use their relationships to solve problems facing them. The novel talks of Joseph realizing that he can’t win the court case without help from other people who had a similar experience. As such, he becomes more acquainted with people who have had tenuous relations with the court. His new acquaintance makes it clear to him that he ought to have closed-door meetings with the town’s politicians. He is advised that the politicians will use their political strength and tries to influence the outcome of the case.
Moreover, economic roles usually characterize adulthood in the society. In the novel, Joseph, as the protagonist, was thirty-one years old and held the position of Chief Clerk in one of the banks near to where he lived. Since the adult was shrewd, ambitious and very competent in his work, his arrest didn’t necessarily mean that he couldn’t play his part of building the economy. He is assigned duties while in jail. Furthermore, wardens working in the prison where Joseph is held are an example of adults playing their role to build the economy and the society.
Also, adults are subject to divine will and fate. The subjection to higher authority beyond an adult’s capabilities limits his or her abilities. It is characteristic of adulthood in the society as described in Kafka’s novel. The life of Joseph is limited by a divine power beyond him. The character eventually suffers death despite having committed no crime. As such, no matter how powerful adults are, they are subject to a greater power. The death of Joseph also symbolizes the end of oppressive regimes like the one he is subjected to.
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Furthermore, adults in the society are painted as immoral. Kafka describes a washerwoman who is the wife of the court usher. Despite being married, the washerwoman seduces Joseph. The woman also allows Joseph to explore the courtroom. While exploring, he finds out that on top of the judge’s examination notebooks, the magistrate’s cell actually contained pornographic novels. Further still into the immorality of adulthood in the novel, a law students checks in and carries the washerwoman away. The washerwoman is presumably off to sleep with a judge.
Besides, adults are portrayed as being susceptible to weariness and despair. Kafka’s novel focuses on Joseph, who is constantly dissatisfied with the slow progress of his case. The novel states that the character gets increasingly distracted such that he can’t focus on his work. Due to the increased dissatisfaction with the slow manner which Huld was handling the case, Joseph decides to seek an alternative lawyer to represent him in his case. He dismisses Huld and goes ahead to form new friends who have been in his position before.
Additionally, when the court’s usher takes Joseph on a tour of the court’s offices, Joseph meets other defendants within the dilapidated court offices. The physical condition of the defendants reveals to Joseph the weariness that one endures while on trial. The muggy atmosphere in the courtroom also makes Joseph feel like fainting. Joseph’s signs of despair are so intense that he has to be escorted out of the court’s offices. He finds a place where the fresh air instantly revives him.
Also, adulthood is characterized by the ability to stand up against evil in the society. The entire novel is an outright critique of the government and the legal system in the society where it is set. It expressly states that Joseph was picked on birthday morning without being charged with any particular crime. No one gives an explanation as to why he is arrested and which crime he is accused of. People reading the novel are treated to a wild search of the crime that Joseph is convicted for. This depiction illustrates the fault in governance in the said society and the role of adults in forming or ending the bad leadership
In addition, Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment is a Russian novel. The book, just like Kafka’s novel, focuses on the concept of adulthood. Raskolnikov, a character in the novel, is the main character and used to explain various adulthood concepts. The character is an adult, and he is used to bringing out the weaknesses of adults. Through the character, the author explores the need to become independent as one moves from childhood to adulthood. According to the author, Raskolnikov lives in Saint Petersburg where he has rented a tiny room (Dostoevsky 13). The character constantly denies any help from his friends, including Razumikhin, who has always been a close friend.
The novel further points out that adults in the society are vulnerable to huge temptations and crime. Raskolnikov devises a plan to rob and murder Alyona Ivanovna- an elderly money-lender and pawnbroker. The character’s determination to kill the woman is attributed to the thought that he is predetermined to kill her by using external powers beyond himself. The decision by Raskolnikov to kill Alyona and later her half-sister amounted to a bad decision. Adults in the society are hence prone to poor decisions. Raskolnikov also meets a new friend- Zakharovich Marmeladov. His new friend is, however, a drunkard. The novel further states that Marmeladov squandered his family’s wealth. Hence, the novel depicts adults as people who tend to make wrong choices and engage in acts of crime.
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Further still, adulthood in the society is an age where one is subjected to his guilty conscience. In the novel, after careful deliberation, Raskolnikov manages to get into Alcona’s house. He kills her with an axe and also kills Lizaveta, her half-sister. He Lizaveta since she happened to witness as he murdered her sister. After committing the murder, Raskolnikov manages to flee the scene undetected and unseen. Despite his success in escaping with murder, the adult is subjected to extreme guilt. The novel states that a few days after committing the murder, Raskolnikov gets into a feverish state and worries obsessively over his actions.
The adulthood stage in the society is also painted as an age where one is extremely cunning and witty. In the society where the novel is set, Raskolnikov devises a plan to survive cunningly without borrowing from his friends. He kills in order to obtain wealth from the pawnbroker. Cunningness and wittiness also enable Raskolnikov to leave the murder scene undetected, and he also hides the stolen items under a rock. Raskolnikov also tries to eliminate any evidence of murder by cleaning any blood stains from his clothes that might have accidentally stained while committing the atrocious act.
From the above discussions, adulthood in the society is characterized by involvement in economic activities in an effort to sustain oneself as well as other people who depend on adults on a daily basis. The novel Crime and Punishment features Alyona- an old lady. The lady, despite her age, is involved in money lending and pawn brokering. These economic activities sustain her life in the society. The novel also features a character- Sonya who was forced into prostitution in an effort to support her family.
Adulthood is portrayed as a social age, a stage where people seek relationships. The social aspect of adults in the novel is portrayed through the numerous families mentioned, including Svidrigaïlov’s family and Marmeladov’s family. Beyond these families is an interesting story of how adults meet and bond. Through the relationships between adults, one can derive the benefit of such associations. It is only through realizing that Raskolnikov loves Sonya that he changes his ingrained contempt for humanity.
In addition, with regards to relationships and the social nature of human beings, Svidrigaïlov, who is a married man, gets attracted to Dunya due to her feminine qualities and physical beauty. He offers the lady riches and also hints the idea of eloping together. Dunya instead flees from the man resulting to her loss of income. In the course of her escape, Dunya meets Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin, a man of modest rank and income. Dunya’s mother is freed from poverty as a result of her relationship with Luzhin. After Dunya had accepted Luzhin, Raskolnikov dismisses their relationship. He cites insincerity in the way the relationship between his sister and Luzhin came to being. Dunya eventually bonds with Razumikhin who marries her, and the two live happily ever after.
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Moreover, adults in the society come out as people with intuition and people who are mentally mature. Raskolnikov meets Porfiry severally. In their meetings, Porfiry, who is an adult, starts to learn of the motives behind the murder of Alyona. As he learns of the intentions, he becomes certain of Raskolnikov’s guilt as the days go by. He, however, lacks evidence to link the murder to Raskolnikov. To add to his doubts, another man appears and admits to committing the murder. Despite these doubts, Porfiry strongly feels that Raskolnikov is guilty.
Besides, adults in the society are portrayed as highly secretive individuals. Raskolnikov comes out as a highly secretive individual. According to the novel, Raskolnikov plans and executes the murder of Alyona. This plan is hatched in high secrecy, not even his friend is aware of his plans. Raskolnikov keeps his financial problems secret, he refuses to seek help from his friend, and instead secretly plans to kill and steal from Alyona.
Last but not least, on the secretive nature of adulthood, Raskolnikov leaves the crime scene unseen and unnoticed. The first time he confesses his crime is to Sonya after guilt had tormented him for far too long. Svidrigaïlov is also quite a secretive person. He eavesdrops as Raskolnikov makes his confession, and at this point, he also gives stories of his past. The novel points out that there have been rumors that Svidrigaïlov had committed several murders. He, however, denies having a hand in the death of his wife while conversing with Dunya.
In the society, “work is perhaps the ultimate measure of adulthood” (Stegner 42). If an individual can undertake a task or has learned to work in the society, he or she is termed as a “grown-up.” While adults may express their dislike for work, they actually derive pleasure from work. This revelation comes when the adult goes for retirement, at this point he or she realizes that they had more fun from his work as opposed to his fun. On realizing this, adults invent new jobs with the aim of doing them. Work gives adults a sense of usefulness and power hence the constant yearn to be engaged in work.
In conclusion, the perspective on adulthood differs from society to society. Literature is an image of the society. From the two novels, we learn of adulthood in the societies where both books are based. While these differences exist, there are major perspective meeting points by different societies. Different societies converge on the role of adults in problem-solving, having responsibilities, having weaknesses and also working to meet their need for exclusive independence.
- Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Crime and punishment. Penguin UK, 2014.
- Fickert, Kurt J. “The Window Metaphor in Kafka’s” Trial.” Monatshefte 58.4 (1966): 345-352.
- Settersten, Richard A., Timothy M. Ottusch, and Barbara Schneider. “Becoming Adult: Meanings of markers to adulthood.” Emerging Trends in the Social and Behavioral Sciences: An Interdisciplinary, Searchable, and Linkable Resource (2015).
- Stegner, Wallace. “The writer and the concept of adulthood.” Daedalus (1976): 39-48.