What more do we learn about Alexandra after Atticus and Calpurnia leave?

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After Atticus interrupts Aunt Alexandra's missionary circle to break the tragic news of Tom Robinson's death, he takes Cal with him to tell Helen Robinson, and Alexandra reveals her softer, compassionate side. Scout witnesses Alexandra discuss her love for Atticus as she worries about his well-being and sympathizes with his...

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After Atticus interrupts Aunt Alexandra's missionary circle to break the tragic news of Tom Robinson's death, he takes Cal with him to tell Helen Robinson, and Alexandra reveals her softer, compassionate side. Scout witnesses Alexandra discuss her love for Atticus as she worries about his well-being and sympathizes with his difficult situation. Alexandra goes on to lament about the callous, insensitive nature of Maycomb's citizens, who are perfectly fine allowing Atticus to risk his neck to do what is right. After Maudie provides some words of wisdom, Aunt Alexandra demonstrates her composure in the face of adversity by wiping her eyes, straightening her dress, and entering the living room to entertain her guests. Scout is very much impressed by her aunt's resolve and dignity. This scene is significant because it portrays Alexandra in a softer light, where she finally shows concern and genuine affection for her brother. She is also portrayed as vulnerable and humanized in this scene, which is both refreshing and realistic.

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When Atticus and Calpurnia leave to break the bad news of Tom Robinson's death to Tom's wife Helen, Aunt Alexandra is left alone with Miss Maudie and the bewildered Scout. All of them are shaken by the terrible news that Tom has been shot dead as he made a break for freedom from the prison. This is practically the first time that we see a softer side to Alexandra. Up till now we have seen her really only as a prim, indeed rigid type of character, somewhat comic in her obsessions with notions of gentility, social conventions and proper behaviour (all of which she tries, unsuccessfully, to impress upon Scout). But in this scene, not only is she shocked by Tom's death, she also expresses genuine concern for Atticus, her brother. She admits to Miss Maudie that she may not agree with everything he does, but she can't bear to see him hurt. Therefore we see a more human and likeable side to her at this point of the novel.

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Aunt Alexandra hosts a missionary tea party in chapter 24. During these missionary teas the women discuss how they can help others in the community to behave more like Christians--especially those in the black community. After the business is discussed, it's customary for the hostess to invite her neighbors over for refreshments. This means that everyone is over at the Finch's when Atticus comes home early from work. He goes straight to the kitchen to find Calpurnia because he needs her to accompany him to Helen Robinson's house to inform her of her husband's death.

After Atticus and Calpurnia leave, both Scout and Aunt Alexandra are overwhelmed with the situation. In the next room, the women are talking disrespectfully about the Robinson family and indirectly criticising Atticus for defending Tom in the recent trial. Scout is trembling and Aunt Alexandra says the following:

"I can't say I approve of everything he does, Maudie, but he's my brother, and I just want to know when this will ever end. . . It tears him to pieces. He doesn't show it much, but it tears him to pieces. I've seen him when--what else do they want from him Maudie, what else?" (236).

The above passage helps us to learn that even though Alexandra seems to be this tough and strict woman, she is at her wits end with the stress and strain that the Tom Robinson case has placed on Atticus and the whole family. Miss Maudie gives Aunt Alexandra a pep talk about how Atticus was the only man who could have pulled off that trial the way he did. Then she tells her to pull herself together and get back out there to her guests. Aunt Alexandra does so gracefully and Scout is so impressed that she says the following:

"Aunt Alexandra looked across the room at me and smiled. She looked at a tray of cookies on the table and nodded at them. I carefully picked up the tray and watched myself walk to Mrs. Merriweather. With my best company manners, I asked her if she would have some. After all, if Aunty could be a lady at a time like this, so could I" (237).

Scout learns that Aunt Alexandra is prone to a meltdown once in awhile, but she will also pick herself up quickly and get back out there in the end. Aunt Alexandra has strengths and weaknesses like the rest of them, but she will always choose to be a lady in the end.

 

 

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