What is the difference in the upbringing of children between Atticus and Aunt Alexandra in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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The parental skills of Alexandra and Atticus contrast wildly in To Kill a Mockingbird. Alexandra's children are already grown and married; young Francis, who inhabits Finch Landing during the Christmas holidays, is actually Alexandra's grandson. Francis' father, Henry, and his wife are similar to Dill's parents: They show little attention (or teach discipline) to their children, preferring to leave them with relatives for long periods of time. They don't even spend Christmas with their family, like Atticus and Uncle Jack; instead, they "pursued their own pleasures."

Scout describes Alexandra as "cold," and her Uncle Jimmy never said a word to Scout except once when he told her to "Get off the fence." Jimmy is distant to everyone, including his wife; he prefers a life of leisure (apparently with no job), and fishing seems to be his main vocation. He refuses to accompany Alexandra when she comes to Maycomb to take care of Jem and Scout. He is probably much happier at Finch Landing. Alexandra's high-brow behavior is the antithesis of Atticus' own way of treating everyone the same. Where Atticus employs Calpurnia to take care of his children, and treats her as a member of the family, Alexandra employs a black chauffeur to drive her around. Alexandra's motherly instincts are poor, or perhaps only rusty; she attempts to be strict with Jem and Scout, deciding that they need a woman's touch, but she shows none of this attitude when dealing with the obnoxious Francis.

It is obvious that Atticus' children are developing conscientious, intelligent skills and habits, and will grow into responsible adults--without the benefit of a mother. The same can't be said of Alexandra's own children, though she does show great improvement by the end of the novel. Her sympathetic and understanding pampering of Scout and Jem in the final chapters show that her rust may be wearing off after all.

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