After Atticus explains the Finch family to Jem and Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, what is revealed about him?
In chapter 13, Aunt Alexandra criticizes her brother for not teaching his children about their family heritage. After Jem mentions that Atticus told them that Cousin Joshua "went round the bend at the University" and attempted to shoot the president, Aunt Alexandra has a one-sided conversation with her brother.
Following his conversation with Alexandra, Atticus attempts to teach his children about their family's history. He awkwardly addresses the subject with Jem and Scout by attempting to use his "lawyer voice" in order to sound serious. However, Atticus ends up making Scout cry, and he apologizes for his demeanor. After his failed attempt at teaching Jem and Scout about their family history, he tells his children to forget everything he said about the family and says that he doesn't want them to remember it. As Atticus leaves the room, he jokingly says,
"Get more like Cousin Joshua every day, don’t I? Do you think I’ll end up costing the family five hundred dollars?" (135)
Atticus's response to teaching his children about their family history reveals his humble, understanding personality. Atticus realizes that one's family history should not define a person and purposely chooses to overlook his family's prestigious background. Atticus is a rational man, who does not take into consideration trivial matters like family history and genealogy. He also reveals his ability to find humor in relatively serious subjects by joking about their deranged Cousin Joshua.
Atticus's sister, Alexandra, is a fanatic about heritage and family history, and she believes her Finch family ancestors are without peers in Maycomb. Atticus, however, doesn't agree. Atticus has already told the children about Joshua S. St. Clair, Alexandra's most revered family member and an author of a small book of poetry. In truth, Joshua
"... went round the bend at the University... tried to shoot the president... Atticus said it cost the family five hundred dollars to get him out of that one..." (Chapter 13)
This revelation angered Alexandra, and she chewed out Atticus, who "soberly" came into the children's bedroom to explain all about his sister's belief in "gentle breeding." But Atticus didn't believe in it himself, and after he brought Scout to tears, he returned to apologize. In answer to Scout's question, he told her that
"I don't want you to remember it. Forget it." (Chapter 13)
He left the room in a most un-Atticus-like manner.
His eyebrows were raised, his glasses had slipped. "Get more like Cousin Joshua every day, don't I?" (Chapter 13)
Atticus reveals that he is humble, apologetic when appropriate, and that he has a self-deprecating sense of humor. But most importantly, he understands that the makeup of a man is not based entirely on his past heritage, but with the individual.