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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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What message does Aunt Alexandra want Atticus 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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What values and behaviors did Aunt Alexandra try to impart to the children in To Kill a Mockingbird?

As was mentioned in the previous post, Aunt Alexandra attempts to impart to the children a sense of admiration and respect for the Finch family name. According to Scout, Alexandra was obsessed with family heritage and wished to educate the children about their rich family history. She even petitions her brother, Atticus, to have a discussion with Jem and Scout about the fact that they come from a unique, well-respected family. Alexandra also does not want Jem and Scout associating with anyone from the lower class because she feels like it would damage their family's reputation.

Alexandra also encourages Jem and Scout to act like well-behaved individuals who represent the Finch family properly throughout town. Alexandra also has high standards for Scout, and she attempts to turn Scout into a Southern belle. Alexandra discourages Scout from wearing overalls and playing outside with the boys. She prefers that Scout wear dresses and participate in social events like the other ladies in Maycomb. 

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What values and behaviors did Aunt Alexandra try to impart to the children in To Kill a Mockingbird?

GENTLE BREEDING.  Aunt Alexandra is a firm believer in this, but it is a term that Atticus tries to explain to the children without much success. It has to do with not being "run-of-the-mill people" and being descended from "beautiful character[s]" such as the family poet (and oddball) Joshua S. St. Clair. Generations of gentle breeding also teach children to "behave like the little lady and gentleman that you are."

FINE FOLKS.  Another of Alexandra's unclearly definable terms, Scout and her aunt disagree on the exact nature of Fine Folks. To Alexandra, they are Maycomb's oldest families, and "the longer a family had been squatting on one patch of land the finer it was." Scout defines Fine Folks differently.

I had received the impression that Fine Folks were people who did the best they could with the sense they had."  (Chapter 13)

FAMILY HERITAGE.  Scout "never understood her preoccupation with heredity." Alexandra believes that the Finch family stands head and shoulders above all of Maycomb's other families, and that all other families are burdened with "morbid" streaks:

Everybody in Maycomb, it seemed, had a Streak: a Drinking Streak, a Gambling Streak, a Mean Streak, a Funny Streak.  (Chapter 13)

Finches do not associate socially with some families, such as the Cunninghams, and this is one reason why Alexandra will not allow Walter Jr. to come and play with Scout, since "he--is--trash..."

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What values and behaviors did Aunt Alexandra try to impart to the children in To Kill a Mockingbird?

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Aunt Alexandra represents the traditional southern woman. Given this role in the novel, it comes as no surprise that Aunt Alexandra places a strong emphasis on behaving in a proper manner. She expects the children to act like “Finches”, meaning to be polite and proper and uphold the image of the Finch family as traditional. She expects Scout to act like a lady, forces family history lessons upon the children and even tries to make Atticus follow along and force these ideals upon the children. She even goes so far as to encourage Atticus to fire Calpurnia. Her racist attutide mirrors that of many upper class white women. Harper Lee uses Aunt Alexandra and her distaste for the lower classes to highlight the prejudiced attitudes toward lower classes and African Americans in that time period. 

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