In To Kill a Mockingbird, what is Aunt Alexandra's definition of fine folks? What are some problems with her definition?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Aunt Alexandra's a bit of a snob. She's totally obsessed with the notion of good breeding. That's why she's always so critical of Atticus for the way he lets his children run wild. It's simply not the appropriate way for members of the Finch family to behave. The Finch family is a good family, one that can trace its ancestry back several generations, and which has owned the same piece of land for many many years.

Aunt Alexandra also has some pretty strange notions of heredity. She thinks that good and bad qualities are handed down from generation to generation. If a family's good, then it will always be good. Likewise, if a family's bad—the Ewells being a notorious example—then they will forever remain beyond social redemption. Aside from its resolutely unscientific basis, Aunt Alexandra's unique take on heredity has a number of fatal flaws. For one thing, it conveniently overlooks the Finch family's numerous black sheep. The children unhelpfully remind her of this unpleasant fact, and when they do, Aunt Alexandra tries to silence them. As far as she's concerned, such disreputable holders of the family name are merely the exception that proves the rule.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

"I never understood her preoccupation with heredity. Somewhere I had received the impression that Fine Folks were people who did the best they could with the sense they had, but Aunt Alexandra was of the opinion, obliquely expressed, that the longer a family had been squatting on one patch of land the finer it was" (130).

Aunt Alexandra comes to live with her brother's family and immediately starts off with her agenda to educate her niece and nephew about "gentle breeding" and behaving according to one's social status. Apparently, much of a person's status has to do with how long one's family has owned the same plot of land. Jem points out a flaw in this reasoning by saying that if that is the case, then the Ewells must be considered "Fine Folks." This is funny because Atticus tells Scout in chapter three that the Ewells are the biggest disgrace in all of Maycomb and have been for three generations. Once Aunt Alexandra starts defining good society, though, she seems to forget this point: It's not the land that makes a family good or worthy of respect, it's what kind of citizens they are and how they treat people that are important factors. Sadly, that's not the entire case when dealing with Southern life in the 1930s.

What Aunt Alexandra is driving at is that the true leaders and pillars of any community usually own land, which gives them voting power in those days. Voting power also equals social power in a lot of ways. Also, people who owned land back then usually used the land as a part of their income, if not for all of it. After the Great Depression hit, a once-powerful agricultural society was forced to make some changes to accommodate the changing economy. One case in point is Atticus. He doesn't make money off of his part of Finches Landing; he makes his money as an attorney. Life is changing and if Aunt Alexandra doesn't recognize that, she will be left behind. Still, she maintains that those who are considered pillars of the community should behave appropriately, and that includes Jem and Scout.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

According to Aunt Alexandra, families who have settled in one place for many generations are deemed as being "fine folks." They have a history; they have roots and are a part of the fibre of the local community. Even the Ewells fit into this category as they had been living by the town dump for such a long time.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial