What are Atticus's and Aunt Alexandra's definitions of trash?  

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Aunt Alexandra's ideas about "trash" are seen early in the novel when she comes to stay with Atticus and the kids for a while. She takes it upon herself to begin teaching Scout that Finches are more respected members of society than most of her neighbors, and she "never let a chance escape her to point out the shortcomings of other tribal groups to the greater glory of our own" (chapter 13). She therefore teaches Scout of the shortcomings of "lesser" families all around them:

"All the Penfield women are flighty.” Everybody in Maycomb, it seemed, had a Streak: a Drinking Streak, a Gambling Streak, a Mean Streak, a Funny Streak. (Chapter 13)

Aunt Alexandra believes that such shortcomings are "hereditary" and cannot be overcome. She thus extends these thoughts to her feelings about poor families like the Cunninghams, telling Scout that young Walter is "trash" and that she will surely pick up "his habits and [learn] Lord-knows-what" from his association. Aunt Alexandra cannot distinguish between poor people who are hardworking members of society and people like Bob Ewell, who are poor and morally detestable. She feels that she must erect a solid wall between her family and families of lower socioeconomic standing.

Atticus, of course, believes in seeing the true character of a person and not their class standing in society. In fact, when Aunt Alexandra is commenting on various family "streaks," Atticus jokingly asks her,

Sister, when you stop to think about it, our generation’s practically the first in the Finch family not to marry its cousins. Would you say the Finches have an Incestuous Streak? (Chapter 13)

Atticus believes that people like Bob Ewell are trash because of the evidence of their character in how they treat others, and particularly society's most vulnerable, such as Tom Robinson. He teaches his children that wealth and "fine families" mean nothing if a person's heart is filled with ugliness—that is what makes a person "trash."

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on April 8, 2020
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Atticus and his sister have completely different definitions of trash. In chapter 23, Atticus and Jem are discussing the unfortunate outcome of the Tom Robinson trial, and Atticus comments on racial injustice. Atticus then tells his son,

. . . whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash (Lee, 224).

According to Atticus, a person with no integrity or respect for an individual of another race is trash. Atticus's definition of "trash" focuses on a person's character and treatment of others. Atticus dismisses a person's family background and places the emphasis on how they treat others.

Alexandra's definition of "trash" is completely different and is illustrated in her response to Scout, who asks if Walter Jr. can come over to play. Alexandra reveals her prejudice against lower-class, poor white families by telling Scout that no matter how many times someone scrubs Walter Jr. he will never be like Jem, which she says before she comments on the drinking streak in Walter's family. Scout continues to protest and ask why Aunt Alexandra will not allow her to invite Walter Jr. over to play. Alexandra finally responds to Scout by saying,

Because—he—is—trash, that’s why you can’t play with him. I’ll not have you around him, picking up his habits and learning Lord-knows-what (Lee, 228).

According to Aunt Alexandra, a person who occupies a lower social class is considered "trash." Alexandra's definition only concerns a person's social status, family background, and appearance. She does not take into consideration how a person behaves or treats other people.

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In To Kill a Mockingbird, Aunt Alexandra and Atticus define "trash" in two very different ways. 

Aunt Alexandra believes in the concept of "fine folks" and the value of good breeding. She takes immense pride in the history and pedigree of the Finch family, especially since Simon Finch was the first settler in the area, which means that the Finch family can trace their lineage back farther than any other family in Maycomb. Thus, to Aunt Alexandra, "trash" is defined or embodied by the Cunningham family, a poor family in which the father is a farmer whose son Walter cannot afford lunch at school.

Atticus, on the other hand, has a much less prejudiced definition of trash. Atticus sees "trash" as white men who exploit black men, using their positions of power to take advantage of them and cheat them. The Ewells would be a good example of "trash" according to Atticus's definition.

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Atticus's definition of trash is a white man who takes advantage of a black man. He sees this as morally wrong, because the one in power is exploiting the one without power. If anything, the one in power should protect the one without power. Atticus makes this point in a conversation with Jem. Here is what he says:

As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it— whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.”

A person who would fit Atticus's definition of trash would be Bob Ewell.

Aunt Alexandra's understanding of trash is quite different. Her definition does not include morality. What is more important to her is the pedigree and sophistication of a person. Therefore Aunt Alexandra does not want Scout to play with Walter Cunningham. To her, the Cunninghams are trash.

She took off her glasses and stared at me. “I’ll tell you why,” she said. “Because— he—is—trash, that’s why you can’t play with him. I’ll not have you around him, picking up his habits and learning Lord-knows-what. You’re enough of a problem to your father as it is.”

As the book progresses, Mr. Cunningham proves to be a honorable man. Atticus says that he is the only juror who is standing up for Tom Robinson. This shows that Alexandra's understanding of what trash is is flawed. 

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