Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

Start Free Trial

What is the fundamental difference in Atticus's and Alexandra's views?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The fundamental difference lies in how each views the residents of Maycomb. Atticus views each family, like the Cunninghams, as an essential part of Maycomb. Remember, early in the text he helps Mr. Cunningham with his "entailment." And Mr. Cunningham pays him as best he can - not with money but with fire wood and nuts. Central to Atticus's beliefs is the idea of crawling inside someone's skin and seeing the world from their point of view (he often tells Scout to do this). Because he has the ability to see the world through the eyes of Mr. Cunningham, Atticus can find something in him to respect (for example, Mr. Cunningham will not accept charity - nor will any of his children). Atticus wouldn't classify the Cunninghams as trash. They make the best of what they have. Notice how he makes Walter feel at home early on in the book when Scout has him over for lunch. Walter and Atticus talk about farming and life. Atticus doesn't judge him nor does he look down at Walter.

Alexandra, on the other hand, lacks the ability to view people from any perspective other than that of being a Finch (which means she is of better stock than most residents of Maycomb). This is why she tells Scout that she can like the Cunninghams all she wants, but they are trash and they not to be treated as friends or invited over. She is much more interested in the social perception of her family than Atticus is. But also remember that Alexandra would never have taken the Tom Robinson either.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In a nutshell, Atticus believes in truth and honesty regardless of the social cost. This is what leads him to take the Robinson case in the first place. Alexandra, although she is humane and decent person, is more concerned about how their family is viewed in relation to other wealthy, Southern families. She thinks Atticus should not be defending a black man simply because that's not how good, white lawyers in the South should act.

To your second question, absolutely not. The Cunninghams are certainly poor and viewed by the community as trashy, but they are definitely not trash. Walter Cunningham is a proud man who doesn't accept charity and is strong enough in will to do what is just and right. Remember that he is the one who leads the lynch mob away after Scout spoke directly to him. It would have taken a ton of courage and pride for a man of lesser social status to stand up against the rest of a foaming mob that way.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Atticus is from one of the most prominent families in Maycomb County, but he doesn't think this makes him better than anyone else. Instead, he is a kind, honest, well-respected man. He allows Jem and Scout to play and explore, and he's very affectionate with them, but he also believes in disciplining the children, teaching them to think of others by "walking in their shoes". He wants Jem and Scout to know how their actions affect others, trying to teach them valuable life lessons in the process. An example is when Jem destroys Mrs. Dubose's camellia bushes, and Atticus makes him read to her each day. When Atticus defends Tom Robinson, he shows the children what real courage is by going against what society believes. He tries to teach them integrity and tolerance in a racist, intolerant society.

Alexandra, Atticus's sister, is the opposite of Atticus in just about every way. She represents the traditional, white Southern woman of the time who feels people have their place in society. Coming from an important family is everything to her. She thinks Atticus is not raising his children correctly, especially Scout. Alexandra thinks Scout should be raised as a young lady and should not be allowed to roam the neighborhood dressed like a tomboy. She doesn't approve of Atticus's defense of Tom Robinson, but she does become upset when she hears about Tom's death.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team