In chapter 13 of To Kill a Mockingbird, what is Aunt Alexandra's major theory concerning human behavior?
Aunt Alexandra is asked to come be with Jem and Scout while Atticus focuses more on the Tom Robinson trial. It seems, however, that she has another agenda in mind. Back at Christmas time, Scout and Aunt Alexandra had a conversation about her wearing overalls and pants. She believes that Scout should be brought up more like a lady because they are a family from "gentle breeding." That is to say, the Finch family were particular when selecting mates for the sole purpose of perpetuating a strong family line of genes. If Scout acts differently than from the family line she comes from, then she would be disgracing them as far as Aunt Alexandra is concerned. Therefore, she comes armed with information and stories about their family to teach the kids with the hopes that they will start acting more like a lady and a gentleman. She hopes this will encourage them to uphold the Finch name for nobility.
Aunt Alexandra's theory is that nobility is found in the genes of a family. So, in an effort to teach Jem and Scout how to behave properly, Aunt Alexandra points out other families (different breeding) and the "streaks" that seem to flow throughout each line. Scout explains as follows:
"Everybody in Maycomb, it seemed, had a Streak: a Drinking Streak, a Gambling Streak, a Mean Streak, a Funny Streak" (129).
Aunt Alexandra even says that Stephanie Crawford's streak is minding other people's business. Apparently, according to Aunt Alexandra, personalities and behaviors are all based in genetics. Since the Finches are of a higher class, then Jem and Scout should therefore act accordingly. Aunt Alexandra wouldn't want people saying that the Finches have a wild streak simply because Scout wears pants, for example.
One other part of Aunt Alexandra's theory is based on how long one family has owned its plot of land. Land represents ownership; ownership gives the man of the house the opportunity to vote; and voting means power and status. Scout eventually gives Aunt Alexandra a little credit to her theory by saying the following:
"There was indeed a caste system in Maycomb, but to my mind it worked this way: the older citizens, the present generation of people who had lived side by side for years and years, were utterly predictable to one another. . . Thus the dicta No Crawford Minds His Own Business, Every Third Merriweather is Morbid, The Truth is Not in the Delafields, All the Bufords Walk Like That, were simply guides to daily living" (131).
Aunt Alexandra comes to town and she and Scout clash at once. Scout's way of thinking does not go along with the way Aunt Alexandra thinks. Aunt Alexandra believes that heredity can explain why people are the way they are. She claims that if one person has a problem, then someone in their family tree had the same problem. She says that if someone has a drinking problem, then somewhere in their history a family member had a drinking problem. This sets people up to be failures in Aunt Alexandra's eyes. She is quick to judge someone and not look at other circumstances. Scout thinks the complete opposite of people. Atticus had taught both Jem and Scout to give people the benefit of the doubt, and to be open minded and not quick to judge.
I never understood her preoccupation with heredity. Somewhere, I had received the impression that fine folks were people who did the best they could with the sense they had, but Aunt Alexandra was of the opinion, obliquely expressed, that the longer a family had been squatting on one piece of land the finer it was.
This goes to show just how different Atticus was raising his children. He had different ideas of what it meant to be a good person and he instilled these ideas onto his children. By the end of the book, however, Scout does come to respect Aunt Alexandra and learns a little bit from her.
Aunt Alexandra's main assertion is that people are the way they are because of their families. Heredity and genetics can be to explain for every human behavior. If someone has a lisp, it's because their mother had one too. If someone tends to cheat at checkers, it may very well be that their great great grandpa did too. If someone is rich, their ancestors must have been too. Unfortunately this order of thinking doomed many people to her unmerited judgment. But that was just Alexandra's way.
This can be supported by two quotes from the chapter:
Everybody in Maycomb, it seemed, had a Streak: a Drinking Streak, a Gambling Streak, a Mean Streak, a Funny Streak.
I never understood her preoccupation with heredity. Somewhere, I had received the impression that Fine Folks were people who did the best they could with the sense they had, but Aunt Alexandra was of the opinion, obliquely expressed, that the longer a family had been squatting on one patch of land the finer it was.