Why does Alexandra come to stay with Atticus and his family in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird?

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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While Aunt Alexandra does visit her brother and his children on occasion, her arrival in Chapter 13 seems precipitated at least, as much by her sense of family solidarity and sense of class as her preoccupation with the importance of "propriety" which demands Scout's need for "feminine influence." For, Alexandra arrives in the chapter that follows after the one in which the black maid Calpurnia takes the children to church and the one previous to that in which Mrs. Dubose hurls insults about Atticus at Jem and Scout, accusing him of being a "n*****-lover" because he violates social mores and takes on the defense of Tom Robinson. 

That Aunt Alexandra holds to these social mores is evinced in her immediate holding of the Missionary teas. In a later chapter, the details of these teas are described with those like Mrs. Merriweather, who voices the conventional wisdom of her class as she disparages her maid for grumbling about her pay. She also remarks that "some good, but misguided people" are causing the blacks such as her maid to become "sulky."

More immediate evidence of Aunt Alexandra's attitudes comes in the following chapter, Chapter 14, when, having been disturbed by the gossip of the town upon learning that the children attended her church, as well as the "improper" position of Calpurnia in the Finch family, she advises her brother to dismiss his maid, "We don't need her any more." Atticus's reply,

"You may think otherwise, but I couldn't have got along without her all these years. She's a faithful member of this family and you'll simply have to accept things the way they are."

certainly does not please Aunt Alexandra.

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kipling2448's profile pic

kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Aunt Alexandra comes to stay with Atticus, Jem and Scout because, as she explains to Scout in Chapter 13 of To Kill a Mockingbird:

“Jem’s growing up now and you are too,” she said to me. “We decided that it would be best for you to have some feminine influence. It won’t be many years, Jean Louise, before you become interested in clothes and boys—”

Throughout Harper Lee’s novel of growing up in the American South during the 1930s, the story’s narrator, Scout, makes sure that the reader understands that Atticus’s sister Alexandra is the bane of her existence.  Scout is what used to be called a “tomboy,” a girl who dressed and behaved more like a boy than the image many people had of a proper young girl.  This situation exists in direct contravention of Aunt Alexandra’s perceptions of “girlhood.”  In a passage in Chapter 9, Scout summarizes her aunt’s views of the young girl’s demeanor:

“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.”

Aunt Alexandra, who had remained at the family’s ancestral estate, Finch’s Landing, is an occasional visitor to Atticus’ home, particularly at Christmas, and regularly expresses her concern that her brother is failing at raising Scout as a proper young lady.  When the decision is made for Alexandra to move in with Atticus, Jem and Scout, she arrives with her luggage and promptly greets Scout in a manner certain to grate on the young girl:

“Put my bag in the front bedroom, Calpurnia,” was the first thing Aunt Alexandra said.

“Jean Louise, stop scratching your head,” was the second thing she said.

Scout is a product of her environment.  She does enjoy doing activities traditionally associated with masculinity.  That is the world in which she lives.  The town of Maycomb is small, rural and poor.  Scout’s only sibling is an older brother, and her best friend, when he comes to Maycomb for the summer, is Dill. In effect, she spends the bulk of her time with male figures, with which she seems perfectly fine.  Aunt Alexandra’s intrusions into her life are unwelcome.  Alexandra comes to live with them, however, with the intent of transforming Scout into somebody she isn’t.  That she greets Scout not with the girl's preferred nickname but with her formal feminine name does not bode well for Scout.

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CaitlynnReeves's profile pic

CaitlynnReeves | Student, Grade 12 | (Level 1) Salutatorian

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Atticus's sister Alexandra comes to stay with atticus because she feels Scout needs a stronger female influence in her life. Jem is entering adolescence, which means Scout is not far behind him. To Alexandra's way of thinking it would be easier on Atticus and in Scout's best interest if a female relative was there in the house with them. 

amysor's profile pic

amysor | Student, Grade 10 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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Alexandria comes to help the Finch family through a rough time. With Atticus involved in the scandalous trial, he has little time to take care of the children. Also, Scout is a tomboy, and has no mother to look up to. Her being a tomboy has caused some problems, so Alexandria has come to help Scout come of age into a young lady. She is a Finch, who are more rich than most of the people of the town, so she is expected to behave lady like.

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