Study Guide

Nation Coming of Age

By Terry Pratchett

Coming of Age

They had all been waiting, for someone who was no longer a boy but had yet to become a man. (2.16)

Mau spends a lot of time, maybe his whole life, in this in-between state, showing that the transition from boy to man never quite ends. But this doesn't mean that he's living in his parents' basement playing Xbox all day. Instead, he has the openness of a boy and the authority of a man. Sounds like a pretty good combo to us.

It would be a triumph. [...] It would mean that [Mau] had been brought up in the right way and had learned the Right Things. (2.173)

You've heard "it takes a village to raise a child"? Try "it takes a Nation." Becoming a man isn't a solo effort. It reflects on the new man's entire family, and it's a ritual that the entire community supports.

[On the Boys' Island, Mau had] felt the Nation around him. He was doing the Right Thing. But now? What were the Right Things? (3.84)

As a boy, Mau knew exactly what to do because he had a bunch of adults around to tell him. But when all the adults you used to look up to are dead, you have to start telling yourself what to do. Is that when you truly become an adult?

How does water become stars? How does a dead man becoming a living dolphin? But those were a child's questions, weren't they? The kind you shouldn't ask? The kind that were silly or wrong. (3.122)

Mau's people seem to think that questioning their faith is a child's folly. If adults don't ask questions, does that mean that becoming an adult involves blindly following everyone else? The difference between man and sheep suddenly doesn't seem very clear.

Mau hurried up to the Women's Place and entered more boldly than he had done before. (5.1)

To boldly go where no man has gone before: Mau's like the Captain Kirk of the island. Who's manlier than Shatner? Anyway, coming of age seems to involve—for Mau—being more comfortable with the opposite sex… without quite dispelling the mystique. (The mystery is half the fun!)

"Not just [a boy]. Not even. Not only. Who knows?" (5.117)

Mau responds to Pilu calling Mau "just a boy" by insisting that he's something more. Mau finds himself in a lot of awkward in-between places in the book, between boyhood and manhood, life and death, nature and civilization. But it's not just Mau. In many ways, we're always between these things; there is no beginning and no end, just life. Depressing? Or inspiring?

Was that [Daphne] back there? Or was this her, right here? (6.56)

Daphne's also in the awkward in-between stages, trying to reconcile her 'civilized' past with her more "natural" present. This is cool, because we often think of the growing-up process as happening the other way around: you go from a savage, natural state as a child to a mature, civilized adult. But what if we've got it backwards?

However much of a Daphne you yearn to be, there is always your Ermintrude looking over your shoulder. (9.20)

Sorry, guys: you'll never fully forget all your awkward younger years. Why should you? They made you who you are today, all weird and wonderful. If it helps, know that celebrities all have awkward high school memories, too.

If [Daphne] was going to be a woman of power, she had to take charge. She couldn't always be the ghost girl, pushed around by events. (9.34)

This is an interesting new interpretation of Daphne's nickname, "ghost girl." On the surface, it seems like it's just talking about, well, what's on the surface: her pale skin. But it's also about ghosts not being in control. They can't actually do anything! Being an adult (and being alive) means taking charge. You never have anyone telling you what to do, so you have to tell yourself what to do. Scared yet? You should be.

"[Mau] called himself the little blue hermit crab, scuttling across the sand in search of a new shell, but now he looks at the sky and knows that no shell will ever be big enough, ever." (15.44)

Mau's not content with becoming an adult, because "becoming an adult" implies an endpoint—and Mau wants to continue to learn and grow for his whole life.