How is Aunt Alexandra a good mother figure to Jem and Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Aunt Alexandra means well; for one thing, she understands the importance of establishing boundaries and setting examples when raising children. But, she's far from being an ideal stand-in mother to Jem and Scout.

She's very much set in her ways and has a rather old-fashioned understanding of child-rearing. With some children such an approach to parenting might work, but not Jem and Scout. Atticus has given them a lot of freedom, allowing them to roam around and explore, so much so that they earn the enmity of Mrs. Dubose, among others, for being wild and undisciplined. Aunt Alexandra is also highly critical of Atticus's hands-off approach.

Aunt Alexandra is also incredibly anxious to make sure that Scout grows up to become what she considers to be a Southern lady. But preparing Scout to be the epitome of refinement and good manners is a complete nonstarter. Scout's too much of a free spirit and a tomboy—she is much too attached to wearing breeches to be moulded into Aunt Alexandra's ideal.

Another factor inhibiting Aunt Alexandra's parenting abilities is her implacable belief that virtues and vices alike are genetic, handed down through families from generation to generation. It's difficult to see how good habits of behavior and good conduct can be inculcated if they're largely determined by one's genetic inheritance.

To be fair to Aunt Alexandra, though, it's important to acknowledge that she does have genuine love for her family members, and is fiercely loyal to them. It's simply that her way of showing affection, like her approach to raising children, is very much of the old school.

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Aunt Alexandra displays some positive character traits throughout the novel, which are similar to characteristics of good mothers. It is important to remember that Aunt Alexandra has the children's best interest in mind. She values heritage, community service, and behaving respectfully. Alexandra attempts to teach the children about their family history and also tries to influence Scout into becoming a Southern belle. However, Alexandra is overly critical of Scout throughout the novel. She continually offends Scout by acting condescending and criticizing her for behaving like a tomboy. Alexandra also portrays her prejudiced personality by making racist comments and preventing Scout from playing with Walter Cunningham Jr. Despite her negative qualities, Alexandra genuinely cares about the children and displays her softer side towards the end of the novel. The more Scout matures, the more she can relate to her aunt. Aunt Alexandra is also an authority figure that keeps a close eye on the children. 

sullymonster eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Aunt Alexandra believes in discipline and family togetherness.  She tries to teach Scout and Jem how to behave like acceptable children of their time - meaning like a little lady and little gentlemen.  She tells them of their family history to give them pride and a sense of belonging.  She tries to protect them from what is happening in town by withholding information from them.

However, the children do not react well to her.  They feel that she is condescending, and that she does not listen to their own opinions.  They prefer the parenting of Atticus, who allows them to establish their own identity and believes in giving them information with which to assess the world around them, in an unbiased manner.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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