In To Kill a Mockingbird, what does Aunt Alexandra think about the importance of family and breeding?
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Aunt Alexandra is all about keeping her family's social status in tact. That means that she wants the Finch name to be respected all around the county for their gentle breeding and good family name. (Good breeding means the family is educated, longstanding landowners, and leaders of the community.) To maintain that already established good name, she feels that Jem and Scout should learn about gentle breeding and how to act, speak, and dress appropriately. There are a number of tactics Aunt Alexandra employs to get her point about good breeding across. One is to tell Scout that she shouldn't be doing anything that would require her to wear pants. Another one is to teach the kids about their ancestors and what they have meant to the history of Maycomb county. She counters this lesson by teaching Scout the following about others in the community:
"She never let a chance escape her to point out the shortcomings of other tribal groups to the greater glory of our own, a habit that amused Jem rather than annoyed him. . . Everybody in Maycomb, it seemed, had a Streak: a Drinking Streak, a Gambling Streak, a Mean Streak, a Funny Streak" (129).
This tactic doesn't work, though, because Aunt Alexandra is met with Jem's quick wit in opposition. As a result, her agenda is not understood by the children and she looks overbearing and controlling.
Finally, she sends Atticus to talk to Jem and Scout about behaving according to their family name and "high" status, but he doesn't do a very good job, as follows:
"Gentle breeding. . .you should try to live up to your name--She asked me to tell you you must try to behave like the little lady and gentleman that you are. She wants to talk to you about the family and what it's meant to Maycomb County through the years, so you'll have some idea of who you are, so you might be moved to behave accordingly" (133).
Scout says at the end of chapter 13 that she understands as an adult what Atticus was trying to say, but at the time, it just felt like Aunt Alexandra was taking over their home.
Aunt Alexandra felt that family and breeding were of the utmost importance. To her, heredity was a critically important topic. She maintained that the Finch family was better than most others because it had been there longer. In addition, she tended to label members of specific families according to their respective hereditary tendencies: one family has a predisposition to alcoholism, one has a predisposition to mental illness, etc. Family lineage was indicative of a person's moral and physical well-being, according to Aunt Alexandra.
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