Which characters in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee try to make Scout conform to proper behavior?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Lots of the women in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird try to make Scout conform to proper behavior; this is not particularly surprising, since Scout's mother died when she was quite young. Each of the women in her life "works on her" in different ways. 

Calpurnia is the closest thing the tomboyish Scout has to a mother, and she is always trying to make sure Scout acts politely. The most obvious example of this happens at the family dinner table at noon on Scout's first day of school. The Finches have a guest, Walter Cunningham, who pours syrup over all his food. Of course the outspoken Scout makes a comment about it. 

It was then that Calpurnia requested my presence in the kitchen. She was furious, and when...she squinted down at me the tiny lines around her eyes deepened. “There’s some folks who don’t eat like us,” she whispered fiercely, “but you ain’t called on to contradict ‘em at the table when they don’t. That boy’s yo’ comp’ny and if he wants to eat up the table cloth you let him, you hear?”

When Scout protests that Walter is "just a Cunningham," Calpurnia really lets Scout have it.

"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! Yo‘ folks might be better’n the Cunninghams but it don’t count for nothin’ the way you’re disgracin‘ ’em—if you can’t act fit to eat at the table you can just set here and
eat in the kitchen!”

Scout learns different things from her neighbor across the street, Miss Maudie. Miss Maudie teaches Scout to value and respect people, including Scout's own father, Atticus. She affirms that "Atticus Finch is the same in his house as he is on the public streets" and that killing a mockingbird is a sin. These may not be the kind of "proper manners" Aunt Alexandria has in mind, but they are manners nevertheless.

The woman who wants to teach Scout the most is her Aunt Alexandra, Atticus's sister. She wants Scout to wear dresses instead of overalls, and she certainly wants Scout to stop being such a tomboy. Scout says it this way:

"Aunt Alexandra was fanatical on the subject of my attire. I could not possibly hope to be a lady if I wore breeches; when I said I could do nothing in a dress, she said I wasn’t supposed to be doing things that required pants. Aunt Alexandra’s vision of my deportment involved playing with small stoves, tea sets, and wearing the Add-A-Pearl necklace she gave me when I was born; furthermore, I should be a ray of sunshine in my father’s lonely life. I suggested that one could be a ray of sunshine in pants just as well, but Aunty said that one had to behave like a sunbeam, that I was born good but had grown progressively worse every year...."

These are the things that constitute proper behavior, according to Aunt Alexandra; however, Scout does not see the importance of any of them. Things are the worst between them regarding these matters when Aunt Alexandria comes to visit; to her credit, Scout does try to do as her aunt wishes. 

All the women in Scout's life (including her first teacher, Miss Caroline) do their best to teach Scout about what is important to them. Calpurnia teaches her proper manners toward a guest in their home, Miss Maudie teaches her to respect others, and Aunt Alexandria tries to teach her proper manners--though her suggestions are perhaps a bit misguided. 

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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