In To Kill a Mockingbird, why does Aunt Alexandra represent for Scout "the starched walls of a pink cotton penitentiary"?

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tinicraw's profile pic

tinicraw | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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In chapter 14, Scout reveals that she and Jem had visited Calpurnia's church on the Sunday that Aunt Alexandra showed up to live with them. In addition, Cal had invited the children to visit her sometime at her house. However, Aunt Alexandra says that Scout will never be allowed to visit Calpurnia at her home. A family argument ensues when Scout says that she was asking her father, not her aunt, about visiting Cal. Atticus does not permit Scout to get away with mouthing off like that and forces her to apologize. Later, Scout overhears her father and aunt talking about someone and she thinks it is about her. It is at this point that Scout says the following:

"I felt the starched walls of a pink cotton penitentiary closing in on me, and for the second time in my life I thought of running away. Immediately" (136).

The starched walls represent her aunt's dress as well as her stiff perfectionism. Everywhere Scout turns, her aunt will be buzzing in her father's ear about how to change her. She starts to feel as if Aunt Alexandra represents a warden while her house might as well be the prison; plus, she is surrounded by pink (the symbol of femininity) and faced with the fact that her life will never be the same again.

ladyvols1's profile pic

ladyvols1 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Aunt Alexandra is a person who lives on 'doing the right thing, following the rules, and acting like fine people act.  "She is a conservative woman concerned with social and class distinctions and bound to the traditions of the South. She tries to counteract her brother's liberal influence on his children by reminding them of their family's eminence and by trying to make Scout behave in a more ladylike manner." She wants Scout to behave like the sweet little girl.  To Scout this is like being in prison.  Her Aunt wants her to dress, act, and behave like a nice little girl.  Aunt Alexandra is unbending, like starched walls.  She won't budge away from her values or standards and she wants Scout to be the same way she is.  To Scout this is like living in a nice, pretty prison.

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