Explain how Miss Maudie and Aunt Alexandra are foils, with quotes as support.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Without doubt, Miss Maudie and Aunt Alexandra are foils, or contrasting personages in the novel whose differences point to the outstanding characteristics of each. For while Miss Maudie is objective, calm, and understanding--even finding humor in many things--Aunt Alexandra is high strung, exacting, rigid, subjective, and snobbish at times.

  • Attitudes towards others

Although she does battle with the foot-washing fundamentalists, who think anything pleasurable is a sin, Miss Maudie is fairly charitable towards others. For example, she urges the children to feel sympathy for Boo Radley because his father is also a "foot-washing Baptist" who thinks that "everything that is fun is a sin." Further, in Chapter 5, she tells the children that the Radley home is a "sad house" and urges the children to leave Boo alone. 

On the other hand, Aunt Alexandra feels herself the social superior to others. In Chapter 13, she lectures on the shortcomings of the various families in the area, and her remarks about breeding and family demonstrate her class- biased attitude. Further, she asks Atticus to speak to Scout and Jem and explain that they

"...are not from run-of-the-mill people, that you are the product of several generations' gentle breeding--"

Also, when Scout talks about having Walter Cunningham come to the house and play with her, Aunt Alexandra objects because his family does not, as people say, "measure up" to the Finches.

"Why not, Aunty? They're good folks."
"Jean Louise, there is no doubt in my mind that they're good folks. But they're not our kind of folks.....Besides, there's a drinking streak in that family a mile wide. Finch women aren't interested in that sort of people."

Whereas Miss Maudie does not criticize Scout for wearing overalls and being a tomboy, Aunt Alexandra demands that Jean Louise, as she always calls Scout, wear dresses and behave in a more ladylike manner.

Aunt Alexandra treats Calpurnia like a servant and tells Atticus that he should let her go because "We don't need her now," but Miss Maudie is never so judgmental and dismissive of people. In contrast to Aunt Alexandra, she comes to the defense of Sophy, the maid of Mrs. Merriweather, who derides her as being "sulky" and "dissatisfied" by the social climate of Maycomb. Rather sarcastically, Maudie asks Mrs. Merriweather if her husband's "food doesn't stick going down, does it?"

  • Personal traits

Miss Maudie is a warm, caring person, and is always approachable. She makes treats for Jem and Scout and even Dill when he visits, and she invites the children over to her house. She speaks to them as though they are adults and does not criticize negatively what they say, but quietly instructs them. She talks to them rather than about them as Alexandra does, who, at Christmas time, makes Scout sit away from the others at a small table (Chapter 9).

 Aunt Alexandra is condescending in her speech to the children, always giving them directives for their behavior or attitudes; consequently, Jem and Scout are reluctant to share any of their thoughts with her. She even performs such things as baking in a formal manner (Chapter 24), and nothing is impromptu such as Miss Maudie's making treats for Jem and Scout. After she arrives in Maycomb, the snobbish Aunt Alexandra pressures Atticus to speak to his children and remind them of their family name:

"You aunt has asked me to try and impress upon you...that you are not from run-of-the-mil people, that you are the product of several generations' gentle breeding--...and you should try to live up to your name."

Indeed, Aunt Alexandra and Miss Maudie are sharply in contrast to one another. By using them as foils, Harper Lee better impresses their characteristics upon the reader.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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