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Why does Aunt Alexandra say that Scout cannot invite Walter Cunningham over? 

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In chapter 23, Jem is discussing the intricacies of the Tom Robinson trial with Atticus when his father ends up telling him that one of the Cunninghams argued for an acquittal. Aunt Alexandra overhears the entire conversation, and Scout mentions that Walter Jr. might come over to spend the night sometime in the future. Alexandra responds to Scout's statement by saying, "We’ll see about that" (Lee, 227). When Scout asks why not, Alexandra explains to her that the Cunninghams are simply not their "kind of folks." Alexandra displays her prejudice against individuals occupying a lower social class by saying that the Finches are fundamentally different people than the Cunninghams. However, Scout continues to question why she is not allowed to play with Walter Jr. until Aunt Alexandra finally says,

"Because—he—is—trash, that’s why you can’t play with him. I’ll not have you around him, picking up his habits and learning Lord-knows-what. You’re enough of a problem to your father as it is" (Lee, 228).

Aunt Alexandra feels that her family is superior to the Cunninghams and views them as lower-class trash. Alexandra's class prejudice is evident in her refusal to allow Scout to associate with the Cunningham family.

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Jonathan Beutlich, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Aunt Alexandra tells Scout that she cannot have Walter Cunningham over because Aunt Alexandra is a snob.  She is a strong proponent of the southern society's strict social class divisions.  She is a Finch, and the Finch family is one of the oldest and most well respected families in all of Maycomb county.  Aunt Alexandra thinks that fact alone gives her and the family a huge sense of entitlement.  Walter Cunningham is not from a well respected, deep roots family.  His family is kind and honest, but ultimately poor.  For that reason, Aunt Alexandra tells Scout to be cordial to Walter, but minimize any contact she has with him.  Aunt Alexandra believes that the Finch family is too good to be associated with the Cunngingham family.  Aunt Alexandra tries to be a bit kind in her first explanation.  

The thing is, you can scrub Walter Cunningham till he shines, you can put him in shoes and a new suit, but he'll never be like Jem. Besides, there's a drinking streak in that family a mile wide. Finch women aren't interested in that sort of people.

But Scout pushes the issue, and Aunt Alexandra is then incredibly blunt and cruel in her reasoning.  

Because--he--is--trash, that's why you can't play with him. I'll not have you around him, picking up his habits and learning Lord-knows-what.

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