In To Kill a Mockingbird, discuss Cousin Joshua Finch as: A. Atticus describes him; B. Aunt Alexandra describes him. What’s the difference?

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus describes Cousin Joshua as a sewer inspector who "went round the bend at the University" and tried to shoot the president. His fanatical, incompetent actions cost their family five hundred dollars. In contrast, Aunt Alexandra views Cousin Joshua as a "beautiful character," who was talented and intelligent enough to write a book.

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Atticus describes Cousin Joshua St. Clair as a young man who went crazy ("around the bend") while in college and tried to shoot the university president, calling him a "sewer inspector" (implying that the university was a sewer) and aiming a flintlock pistol at this man. The flintlock pistol blew...

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Atticus describes Cousin Joshua St. Clair as a young man who went crazy ("around the bend") while in college and tried to shoot the university president, calling him a "sewer inspector" (implying that the university was a sewer) and aiming a flintlock pistol at this man. The flintlock pistol blew up in cousin Joshua's hand. It cost, Atticus says, five hundred dollars to get Joshua out of trouble.

Aunt Alexandra points out, in contrast, that Cousin Joshua was a "beautiful character" who wrote a book of meditations. She brings out the purple and gold volume to try to impress on her niece and nephew that they should be proud of their family heritage.

Obviously, the two adults communicate very different impressions of Cousin Joshua. Atticus, who has no interest in building glorious legends out of family ancestors, is willing to tell Joshua's story as it is, warts and all. He believes in honesty and has a sense of humor. Alexandra, in contrast, wants to tell an idealized story to build family pride, which is more important to her than strict truth telling.

The main difference between them is that Aunt Alexandra is a completely conventional Southern woman. She accepts the typical adulation of ancestors, family heritage issues, and the past that is so important to the Southern psyche. Atticus, however, believes people should rest on their own laurels and not on the borrowed glory of what their forebears might have done.

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In chapter 13, Aunt Alexandra moves into the Finch residence in order to be a positive female influence on Scout and teach her how to behave like a proper southern lady. Aunt Alexandra is portrayed as a strict traditionalist who values her heritage and attempts to teach Jem and Scout about their impressive family history. After Scout fails to recognize her cousin Lily, Aunt Alexandra attempts to instill family pride in the children by showing them a purple-colored book stamped in gold, which was written by their relative, Joshua S. St. Clair. Although the volume is quite small, Aunt Alexandra takes pride in the fact that her relative wrote a book. She proceeds to tell the children that their cousin wrote it and describes Joshua S. St. Clair as a "beautiful character."

After examining the book, Jem asks if it was written by the same Cousin Joshua who was locked up for an extended period of time. Jem explains that Atticus told them Cousin Joshua "went round the bend at the University" and tried to shoot the president. Atticus referred to Joshua S. St. Clair as an old sewer inspector, who cost the family five hundred dollars to get him out of trouble. Essentially, Atticus views Cousin Joshua as a mentally unstable, incompetent fanatic, while Aunt Alexandra sees him as a worthy intellectual with a beautiful mind. After Jem elaborates on Atticus's negative perception of Joshua S. St. Clair, Aunt Alexandra castigates Atticus and forces him to elaborate on their family's "gentle breeding."

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The Finch's cousin, Joshua S. St. Clair (not Joshua Finch as the previous poster noted), was a writer who was looked upon quite differently by Atticus and his sister, Alexandra. Trying to impress Jem and Scout about their illustrious family tree, Aunt Alexandra brought out their cousin's book, "stamped in gold." Obviously proud of her kin, she told the children that

"He was a beautiful character."

But Atticus had already told Jem and Scout about their cousin.

    Jem examined the small volume. "Is this the Cousin Joshua who was locked up for so long?"

When Alexandra protested, Jem went on to say that Atticus had told them that Joshua had "gone round the bend at the University. Tried to shoot the president." Atticus had called him "a sewer inspector," and recalled that "it cost the family five hundred dollars to get him out of that one--"

    Aunt Alexandra was standing stiff as a stork. "That's all," she said. "We'll see about this."

Alexandra had a few choice words for her brother later, since he came back to sheepishly explain to Jem and Scout that they were the product of "gentle breeding."

Simply put, Alexandra was proud of Joshua for having written a book--albeit a small and insignificant one. Atticus was more realistic: Joshua was an inept, would-be murderer who was possibly mentally unstable.

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