What are Aunt Alexandra's ideas about breeding and family, and why does Atticus tell them to forget it in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Atticus' sister, Alexandra, is quite proud of the heritage of the Finch family, one of the oldest families in the area. Scout was not impressed, however.

I never understood her preoccupation with heredity.

Scout believes that people should be judged on their actions and the good sense they display. Her Aunt Alexandra, however,

was of the opinion, obliquely expressed, that the longer a family had been squatting on one patch of land, the finer it was.

With this reasoning, Scout figured, the Ewells would qualify as "fine folks," since they had been inhabiting their shack near the dump for at least three generations. Atticus attempted to explain it a little more clearly. The Finches were not "run of the mill people" but the result of generations of "gentle breeding." Atticus, too, seemed to be stumped when it came to clarifying this term. Although they were only recent additions to the Finch geneology, Atticus (an attorney) and his brother, Jack (a doctor), seemed to be the two most illustrious members of the family tree. Alexandra's example of the Finch family's most famous kin, one Joshua S. St. Clair, had published a book--a "small volume." What she failed to tell Jem and Scout was that St. Clair had also attempted to murder the president of the University of Alabama, and had gone "round the bend." Perhaps Jem explained Alexandra's pride of her heritage best when he told Scout that

Aunty's so hipped on the family because all we've got's background and not a dime to our names. 

 

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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