Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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What does Aunt Alexandra's obsession with heredity symbolize? 

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Aunt Alexandria's obsession with heredity represents larger ideas that existed about social norms of the class system. Under many traditional norms regarding marriage and family, things like race, money, gender, allegiance, or reputation could, unfortunately, influence people's perception of how valuable another human being is.

Aunt Alexandria's motivation for showing up at the Finch home is twofold. First, she takes an interest in raising Scout to be a lady by exerting a "feminine" influence on her. She believes men and women must fulfill different gender roles and sees a very strict differentiation between them. Scout's "unladylike" behavior, from not wearing dresses to fighting, is seen as disgraceful, so Alexandria feels inclined to step in to show Scout how she thinks a woman ought to behave. Scout already has a female role model in Calpurnia, but because Calpurnia is black, Alexandria believes she does not possess the "superior" (or white, gentile) feminine qualities that live up to the Finch tradition.

Some of the qualities Scout learns from Aunt Alexandria are arguably good and represent the more positive aspects of these social norms. For example, she is a skilled and gracious host. Not only does she throw a party that cultivates socializing, but she teaches Scout to be gracious to offensive guests by taking the high road during a party. That said, the people present at her party are all "acceptable" for her to socialize with—of her class status.

Aunt Alexandria's allegiance to family and supportiveness to the men in her family can also be seen as a positive aspect of the views she represents. It is clear from her famous statement that she just wishes for the trial to end for Atticus's sake that Aunt Alexandria is very concerned about the stress of the trial. This shows she cares about her family and that she is able to acknowledge how important the trial is to her brother. This is also another reason she moves in to help with the children: to support Atticus, her brother who needs help taking care of his children during a trying time, and a family member whom she loves.

But in the end, Aunt Alexandria's good qualities of grace, empathy, and compassion are compartmentalized based on societal standing. She does not have much compassion for the poor folks in her society, for instance, and only shows emotion at Tom's plight when she hears he is dead. At first, she says Atticus is "ruining" the family name forever by defending Tom. Defending the family name is more important to her than defending the life of an innocent man, but she supports her brother and does her best to play damage-control by influencing the children's behavior and being present in the community, as she is well-respected herself.

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Aunt Alexandra's obsession with heredity symbolizes the deep rooted prejudiced beliefs shared by certain community members of Maycomb. Her views represent the old-fashioned, traditional Southern ideology that acknowledges and judges people based on their social status. She is quick...

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to discriminate against an individual or family of a lower social class becauseshe believes that her elite family heritage makes her better than others.These views symbolize the root of Maycomb's social issues and the community's inclination to encourage inequality and injustice. Aunt Alexandra argues with her brother Atticus over defending Tom Robinson. She even tells her grandson, Francis, that Atticus is "shaming" the family. Rather than judging people based on their character, accomplishments, and merit, Alexandra chooses to judge them based on their family's social status. Her beliefs contrast greatly with Atticus' views of equality and correspond with Maycomb's prejudiced nature.

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