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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee
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What does Aunt Alexandra request that Atticus try to convey to the children in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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In chapter 14, Aunt Alexandra requests that Atticus educate his children about their family history and encourage them to act like polite at all times. According to Scout, Aunt Alexandra is obsessed with heredity and believes that the longer a family stays on a specific plot of land, the more prestigious that family is.

Alexandra proceeds to criticize her brother for his comments regarding Cousin Joshua and persuades him to teach his children about their honorable family history. Before bedtime, Atticus attempts to speak to his children about their heritage by telling Jem and Scout that they are not run-of-the-mill people and are instead a product of several generations of "gentle breeding." Atticus goes on to say that Alexandra wanted him to encourage Jem and Scout to behave like a gentleman and little lady. Atticus also mentions that he wants to talk to them about what their family means to Maycomb County.

Despite trying to talk to his children about their heritage and manners, Atticus cannot pretend to care about his family's history or subscribe to his sister's beliefs. He eventually tells the children to not worry about anything and to forget what he said.

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It is very important to Alexandra that the children realize that they are Finches, and to be proud of the name.  Alexandra seems to need some sort of validation that her family is respectable and better than some of the folks of Maycomb.  Jem theorizes at one point that the reason it's so important to Alexandra to focus on the family name is because no one in the family has any money.  Alexandra upsets Scout after the trial when she refers to Walter Cunningham's family as "trash" and tells Scout not to play with him. This is in stark contrast to Atticus's general outlook about humanity, which he demonstrates when he tells his children not to judge anyone until they have climbed in the person's shoes and walked around in them.  This noble outlook looks more like naivete in light of Bob Ewell's vicious attack on Scout and Jem, but Atticus does raise his children to be tolerant and compassionate human beings, and unlike his sister, he is not the least bit interested in making them feel superior to others.

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