Family Values in To Kill a Mockingbird: How can the student comment on Aunt Alexandra's ideas about breeding and family to which Atticus tell the children to forget it?  

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When Aunt Alexandra arrives in Maycomb in Chapter 13, she enters as a typical Southern lady of the 1930s. Foremost in her mind is proper behavior and class-appropriate attitudes, and she feels that her "feminine influence" is needed in Atticus's home. Certainly, there is a touch of satire in Scout/Harper Lee's descriptions:

When she settled in with us...Aunt Alexandra seemed as if she had always lived with us.  Her Missionary Society refreshments added to her reputation as a hostess (she did not permit Calpurnia to make the delicacies...); she joined and became the Secretary of the Maycomb Amanuensis Club. To all parties present and participating in the county, Aunt Alexandra was one of the last of her kind: she had river-boat, boarding-school manners;let any moral come along and she would uphold it; she was born in the objective case; she was an incurable gossip. When Aunt Alexandra went to school, self-doubt could not be found in any textbookm so she knew not its meaning. She...would exercise her royal prerogative: she would arrange, adise, caution, and warn.

In her queenly manner, Aunt Alexandra never misses an opportunity to expose the shortcomings of those of another lineage than the Finch. Her propensity for stereotyping different families exhibits itself in such comments that attribute a "Streak" to a family. For instance, she comments on one teen's flirtations, "It just goes to show you, all the Penfield women are flighty."

Lee's satire is certainly evident in what Scout phrases as Aunt Alexandra's opinion that 

the longer a family had been squatting on one patch of land, the finer it was

as Jem remarks, "That makes the Ewells fine folks, then" because the Ewells had lived behind the Maycomb dumb for generations. But, Scout/Lee does concede that Alexandra's theory does have something behind it as since Maycomb was established for government, it was spared the "grubbiness that distinguished most Alabama towns."

While Atticus finds Aunt Alexandra too "stuffy" in her opinions, he does acknowledge that the Finches are not "run-of-the-mill people." But, when Scout asks him if he really wants them to assume the attitudes and behavior of Aunt Alexandra, Atticus replies, that they do not need to remember all that she has said. However, as he leaves, he turns back after nearly slamming the door and says, "Get more like cousin Joshua every day, don't I?"

This observation of Atticus affirms some of what Alexandra has said. Heredity and geneology do matter in the make-up of a person. But, the hauteur and affectations of a class are not things that Atticus feels should be perpetuated. Nor does Atticus accept the stereotyping of people. The poor Cunninghams, for instance, are not the same as the Ewells; indeed, there is a dignity of Mr. Cunningham's ethics of paying his debts and being a decent person that is as worthy or more so than any of the upper-class.


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To Kill a Mockingbird

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