How is the theme of family life presented in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Nearly all of the families in To Kill a Mockingbird are atypical, with the Finches proving to be the most normal in the novel. Yet, Atticus's family is still unusual: It is a single-parent family in which his children call him by his first name. Scout is an intelligent yet precocious tomboy, and neither she nor brother, Jem, have any close friends until Dill comes to visit each summer. The only motherly touch in the household comes from Calpurnia, the African American housekeeper. Nevertheless, the Finches serve as role models for the other dysfunctional families found in Maycomb.

  • The Ewells are the "disgrace of Maycomb for three generations," in part because of the lack of a mother and their sorry excuse for a father, Bob. They, too, are a single-parent family, but unlike Atticus, Bob spends little time with his children. He turns over the parenting responsibilities to his oldest daughter, Mayella, who tries her best but whose mothering skills are very limited. The children have no role model, and they scavenge the dump instead of going to school.
  • Dill's family is also dysfunctional, and he prefers spending his summers in Maycomb away from them. Dill's mother and his various fathers prefer their own company together without Dill, and Dill is quick to recognize this. He dreams of having a baby with Scout, so they can bring it up properly.
  • The Cunningham family is a large one, and poor Walter Jr. never knows when or from where his next meal will come. Like the Ewells, the Cunninghams are outcasts who tend to socialize with other members of their "enormous and confusing tribe."
  • The Radley family is both mysterious and unusual. The father is a "foot-washing Baptist" who is perfectly willing to imprison his son, Boo, within the family's old house. When Boo's mother and father die, his brother, Nathan, returns home to serve as Boo's warden/guardian.