What does Atticus tell the children about being Finches in Chapter 13 of To Kill a Mockingbird?

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gpane eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the behest of family-obsessed Aunt Alexandra, Atticus attempts to instill in his children a sense of pride in their family heritage. Aunt Alexandra is always going on about the breeding, gentility and general superiority of the Finches to almost everyone else in Maycomb. When she comes to stay with Atticus, she is appalled to discover that he has not told his children any of the illustrious Finch history - save about dubious characters like Cousin Joshua who went crazy. Scout also earns her aunt's marked disapproval on one occasion when, on being asked to greet her cousin Lily Brooke, she confesses readily that she didn't even know that Lily was her cousin. It is after this show of ignorance on the part of the children that Alexandra tasks Atticus with filling them in on their family history.

Atticus's fumbling awkward attempts to obey these instructions make for a good deal of comedy. The children are frankly bewildered, as he hems and haws and finally comes out with a few words on the subject, finishing at a 'gallop'. Scout, though, is also genuinely upset because she knows that to go on about family pride and background is pretty much alien to Atticus and she worries that their aunt might be unduly influencing him. However, she is relieved when she realizes that Atticus is just as uncomfortable with the subject as she and Jem are, probably even more so. He tells them to 'forget' what he's just said. The adult Scout concludes the chapter with a light-hearted observation:

I know now what he was trying to do, but Atticus was only a man. It takes a woman to do that kind of work.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Since Atticus' sister, Alexandra, is obsessed with the Finch family history, it becomes the main subject of conversation once she moves in to the Finch home. Alexandra becomes upset when Scout disputes the facts about their less-than-illustrious Cousin Joshua St. Clair. Alexandra considers him the most important of all Finches, but according to Atticus (as told by Scout),

"... he went round the bend at the University (of Alabama). Said he tried to shoot the president... said he wasn't anything but a sewer inspector... said it cost the family five hundred dollars to get him out of that one--"

Alexandra gave Atticus an earful about this, so he tried to impress upon Scout and Jem the importance of "gentle breeding."

"You are not run-of-the-mill people... you should try to live up to your name."

But Atticus soon became angry at Scout's inattention, and he yelled at her, causing her to cry. Atticus saw the error of his (and Alexandra's) ways, and he told Scout

"I don't want you to remember it. Forget it... Get more like Cousin Joshua every day, don't I?"


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To Kill a Mockingbird

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