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Although Jem and Scout lost their mother when they were very young, they seem to enjoy an almost idyllic childhood during the first part of To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus proves to be a devoted and model single father, and the Finch family seems to be the best adjusted in the entire novel. Atticus allows his children a great deal of independence, but he and Calpurnia are quick to let Jem and Scout know when they are out of line. Atticus has never spanked his children--though Scout is "romped on" once by her Uncle Jack--and Jem wants to keep it that way. He returns to the Radley house after losing his pants in order to keep his secret safe about losing them in the collard patch, but the children discover later on that Atticus has known all along. The children's happy world is altered a bit in the second part of the novel when Aunt Alexandra enters the picture.
Other families in the story are far more dysfunctional. Dill enjoys his stay in Maycomb since he rarely receives any attention from his own parents when he is at home. He manages to put up with his Aunt Rachel, who is a closet drinker who he likens to a witch. The Radleys are anti-social and force their ways on Boo when he runs into trouble with the law. Bob Ewell is also a single parent, but his parenting is just part of the reason that his large family is such a "disgrace." Bob sees no reason for the kids to go to school, nor does he take a hand in keeping them clean. The Cunningham family is so poor that Walter Jr. comes to school hungry and without lunch, though, unlike the Ewells, Walter is clean and respectful. Alexandra and her husband, Jimmy, barely speak, and their only child "left home as soon as was humanly possible"; meanwhile, Francis, Alexandra's grandson, is spoiled rotten.
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