What are some quotes that show family background is extremely important in To Kill A Mockingbird?

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The importance of one's family background becomes apparent early in To Kill a Mockingbird. Upon hearing a character's last name, a certain set of qualities or characteristics can be inferred. For example, during Scout 's first day of school, Miss Caroline notices that Walter Cunningham does not have a...

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The importance of one's family background becomes apparent early in To Kill a Mockingbird. Upon hearing a character's last name, a certain set of qualities or characteristics can be inferred. For example, during Scout's first day of school, Miss Caroline notices that Walter Cunningham does not have a lunch or lunch money. She offers to give him a quarter, and he politely refuses. This seems to annoy Miss Caroline. Scout offers an explanation of Walter's refusal by simply stating, "Miss Caroline, he's a Cunningham." This quote shows the importance of family background because to the citizens of Maycomb, the Cunningham name would explain why Walter refuses to take the money. Cunnighams in Maycomb, according to Scout, do not take handouts from others. She says, "they get along on what they have."

Family background is especially important to Scout's Aunt Alexandra. She believes the Finch name holds a certain status in Maycomb County, and she feels that Jem and Scout must behave in a proper way to maintain the good Finch name. After receiving a lecture from Aunt Alexandra on the upbringing of his children, Atticus says to Jem, "Son, you know you're a Finch don't you?" Scout shares that Aunt Alexandra believes that "No Crawford Minds His Own Business," "Every Third Merriweather Is Morbid," and "The Truth Is Not In The Delafields." These beliefs provide further evidence of the importance of family background in the novel.

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Social class and family background are very important in Maycomb, where everyone knows his or her place.

Family and tradition are very important in Maycomb.  Every family has a place, and everyone knows what that place is.  This is one of the reasons why Scout goes on and on about the history of her family in the beginning.  She is very explicit about it, explaining the Finch family’s heritage and Atticus’s background.  This is important in Maycomb.

Atticus gives Jem and Scout a lecture about the “facts of life" at the behest of Aunt Alexandra.  It is important to her that they know what being a Finch is, and the responsibilities it entails. 

"Your aunt has asked me to try and impress upon you and Jean Louise that you are not from run-of-the-mill people, that you are the product of several generations' gentle breeding-" (Ch. 13)

In fact, Scout has heard this before.  She has heard people comment about her father’s defense of Tom Robinson as something against his “breeding,” such as Mrs. Dubose’s angry racist tirade.

"Yes indeed, what has this world come to when a Finch goes against his raising? I'll tell you! …Your father's no better than the niggers and trash he works for!" (Ch. 11)

It is comments like this that confuse Scout.  She understands that her aunt wants her to wear dresses and pearl necklaces, but she doesn’t quite get the connection here.  She is too young to see that people consider her father a role model in the town, and therefore are disappointed when he defends Tom Robinson.

The race and class distinctions are something that Scout has encountered at school as well.  For example, the Ewell family is full of children, and they all only go to school on the first day.

"They come first day every year and then leave. The truant lady gets 'em here 'cause she threatens 'em with the sheriff, but she's give up tryin' to hold 'em. She reckons she's carried out the law just gettin' their names on the roll …” (Ch. 3)

The illiterate Ewells turn out to be important in Scout’s life because it is Mayella and Bob Ewell who charge Tom Robinson with rape, so they are on the other side of her father’s trial.  Through them, she sees the other side of social class.  

The Ewells contrast sharply with the Cunninghams, who are also poor but more respectably so, because they try to live within the confines of society.  Scout learns that even within class distinctions she should treat everyone with respect.  

"He ain't company, Cal, he's just a Cunningham-"
"Hush your mouth! Don't matter who they are, anybody sets foot in this house's yo' comp'ny, and don't you let me catch you remarkin' on their ways like you was so high and mighty! ..." (Ch. 3)

This lesson, taught by Cal, is echoed by Atticus.  Even when he tries to teach his children Alexandra's perception of Maycomb, he still believes that people are people.  It is through Atticus that Scout comes to realize that even though she is a Finch, this does not really make her better than anyone else.

Part of growing up is learning how you fit into the world.  This isn't always easy when the definition of right and wrong seems to vary depending on who is teaching you.  Scout has to learn whether to follow Atticus's view of the world, of Alexandra's as she grows up.  Fortunately for Scout, she chooses to side with Atticus.

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In the first chapter of the novel, Scout describes her family background.  She discusses how her ancestors came to Maycomb County.  She also mentions her ancestry even further back:

Being Southerners, it was a source of shame to some members of the family that we had no recorded ancestors on either side of the Battle of Hastings (To Kill a Mockingbird, Chapter 1).

Scout describes how some members of her family are ashamed because they cannot trace their ancestry back to the French or English sides of the Battle of Hastings.  This shows how important family background is in Maycomb's society, as the Battle of Hastings had occurred nearly one thousand years before.

Later in the novel, Aunt Alexandra asks Atticus to instill in his children a sense of pride in their family background.  With hesitation, he agrees to do so:

Atticus suddenly grew serious.  In his lawyer's voice, without a shade of inflection, he said: "Your aunt has asked me to try and impress upon you and Jean Louise that you are not from run-of-the-mill people, that you are the product of several generations' gentle breeding—" Atticus paused, watching me locate an elusive redbug on my leg.

"Gentle breeding," he continued, when I had found and scratched it, "and that you should try to live up to your name—" Atticus persevered in spite of us: "She asked me to tell you you must try to behave like the little lady and gentleman that you are.  She wants to talk to you about the family and what it's meant to Maycomb County through the years, so you'll have some idea of who you are, so you might be moved to behave accordingly," he concluded at a gallop (Chapter 13).

The Finch family has been well respected in Maycomb County for generations.  Aunt Alexandra thinks that Scout and Jem should behave in a way that shows the "gentle breeding" of the Finch family.  She wants them to represent the family well around Maycomb.

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