In To Kill a Mockingbird, explain what Scout means when she says, "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."

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch cares for his two young children, Scout and Jem after their mother dies. Aunt Alexander feels that Scout, in particular, needs some "feminine influence" and she comes to stay with the family for, "a while." Her visit ties in with the start of the Tom Robinson trial and it does not take Aunt Alexander long to become part of the community. She has a very different style from Atticus and is quite opinionated in her child-rearing beliefs whereas Atticus allows his children to develop their personalities through learning experiences. Scout is, therefore, quite a tomboy; something that Aunt Alexander does not approve of.

Aunt Alexandra is particularly surprised by Jem's description of Cousin Joshua and feels that Atticus should speak to his children about their "gentle breeding" as they seem to need reminding that they are not " run-of-the-mill people." Atticus is clearly uncomfortable talking to his children this way and Scout immediately notices that his tone is not sincere but rather too business-like. He tries to tell the children that others expect them to behave a certain way; Scout a little more ladylike and Jem more like a young gentleman. They are confused and Scout begins to cry, causing Atticus to regret his manner. He tries to reassure his children by suggesting that maybe he will cost the family some money, just like Cousin Joshua. 

Scout, with a renewed self- awareness, recognizes Atticus' efforts to comfort her and the fact that he only started this conversation at Aunt Alexander's insistence. She now "knows what he was trying to do," in attempting to reassure his children after all but also realizes that he obviously lacks a mother's ability to nurture children instinctively. It does not come naturally to him. 

rachellopez | Student

It was pretty common during the time period this book was written for the mother to take care of and raise the children (it can still be common but there are a lot of single dads these days as well). Because Scout and Jem didn't have a mother, Atticus had to raise them. Atticus has Aunt Alexandra stay with them to give Scout a mother like figure, but when she is there Atticus talks to them and he doesn't sound like his usual self, so Scout gets upset. However, she realizes that Atticus is trying to raise them well, but a woman has a "better" idea of how to raise children.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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