What role does heritage play in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In addition to its universal themes, To Kill a Mockingbird is a story of the American South in the 1930s. The Southern heritage of its characters permeates the novel. Families in Maycomb County with an African-American heritage are the victims of racial prejudice and injustice. They are relegated to the lowest social rung in the community, even if they are people of outstanding character, like Calpurnia, Rev. Sykes, and Tom and Helen Robinson.

The white citizens in Maycomb are also classified in terms of their Southern heritage. Those families with the longest history in the county were held in highest esteem, at least by people like Aunt Alexandra. The Finches' ancestor, Simon Finch, had emigrated from England and settled in Maycomb County long before the Civil War, farming the land and owning slaves. His property at Finch's Landing stayed in the family for generations to follow. Thus the Finches were an old and respected Southern family.

Alexandra took great pride in her heritage and scorned those who did not share it. She called Walter Cunningham "trash" and would not let Scout invite him to their home. She would not let Scout go to Calpurnia's home. Scout found this idea of heritage confusing since her aunt seemed to believe that "the longer a family had been squatting on one patch of land the finer it was." Aunt Alexandra's pride in her heritage made her a terrible snob, unlike Atticus who viewed the talk of "Old Family" as foolishness.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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