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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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What are some quotes that show family background is extremely important in To Kill A Mockingbird?

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The importance of one's family background becomes apparent early in To Kill a Mockingbird. Upon hearing a character's last name, a certain set of qualities or characteristics can be inferred. For example, during Scout's first day of school, Miss Caroline notices that Walter Cunningham does not have a lunch or lunch money. She offers to give him a quarter, and he politely refuses. This seems to annoy Miss Caroline. Scout offers an explanation of Walter's refusal by simply stating, "Miss Caroline, he's a Cunningham." This quote shows the importance of family background because to the citizens of Maycomb, the Cunningham name would explain why Walter refuses to take the money. Cunnighams in Maycomb, according to Scout, do not take handouts from others. She says, "they get along on what they have."

Family background is especially important to Scout's Aunt Alexandra. She believes the Finch name holds a certain status in Maycomb County, and she feels that Jem and Scout must behave in a proper way to maintain the good Finch name. After receiving a lecture from Aunt Alexandra on the upbringing of his children, Atticus says to Jem, "Son, you know you're a Finch don't you?" Scout shares that Aunt Alexandra believes that "No Crawford Minds His Own Business," "Every Third Merriweather Is Morbid," and "The Truth Is Not In The Delafields." These beliefs provide further evidence of the importance of family background in the novel.

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Social class and family background are very important in Maycomb, where everyone knows his or her place.

Family and tradition are very important in Maycomb.  Every family has a place, and everyone knows what that place is.  This is one of the reasons why Scout goes on and on about the history of her family in the beginning.  She is very explicit about it, explaining the Finch family’s heritage and Atticus’s background.  This is important in Maycomb.

Atticus gives Jem and Scout a lecture about the “facts of life" at the behest of Aunt Alexandra.  It is important to her that they know what being a Finch is, and the responsibilities it entails. 

"Your aunt has asked me to try and impress upon you and Jean Louise that you are not from run-of-the-mill people, that you are the product of several generations' gentle breeding-" (Ch. 13)

In fact, Scout has heard this before.  She has heard people comment about her father’s defense of Tom Robinson as something against his “breeding,” such as Mrs. Dubose’s angry racist tirade.

"Yes indeed, what has this world come to when a Finch goes against his raising? I'll tell you! …Your father's no better than the niggers and trash he works for!" (Ch. 11)

It is comments like this that confuse Scout.  She understands that her aunt wants her to wear dresses and pearl necklaces, but she doesn’t quite get the connection here.  She is too young to see that people consider her father a role model in the town, and therefore are disappointed when he defends Tom Robinson.

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It is comments like this that confuse Scout.  She understands that her aunt wants her to wear dresses and pearl necklaces, but she doesn’t quite get the connection here.  She is too young to see that people consider her father a role model in the town, and therefore are disappointed when he defends Tom Robinson.

The race and class distinctions are something that Scout has encountered at school as well.  For example, the Ewell family is full of children, and they all only go to school on the first day.

"They come first day every year and then leave. The truant lady gets 'em here 'cause she threatens 'em with the sheriff, but she's give up tryin' to hold 'em. She reckons she's carried out the law just gettin' their names on the roll …” (Ch. 3)

The illiterate Ewells turn out to be important in Scout’s life because it is Mayella and Bob Ewell who charge Tom Robinson with rape, so they are on the other side of her father’s trial.  Through them, she sees the other side of social class.  

The Ewells contrast sharply with the Cunninghams, who are also poor but more respectably so, because they try to live within the confines of society.  Scout learns that even within class distinctions she should treat everyone with respect.  

"He ain't company, Cal, he's just a Cunningham-""Hush your mouth! Don't matter who they are, anybody sets foot in this house's yo' comp'ny, and don't you let me catch you remarkin' on their ways like you was so high and mighty! ..." (Ch. 3)

This lesson, taught by Cal, is echoed by Atticus.  Even when he tries to teach his children Alexandra's perception of Maycomb, he still believes that people are people.  It is through Atticus that Scout comes to realize that even though she is a Finch, this does not really make her better than anyone else.

Part of growing up is learning how you fit into the world.  This isn't always easy when the definition of right and wrong seems to vary depending on who is teaching you.  Scout has to learn whether to follow Atticus's view of the world, of Alexandra's as she grows up.  Fortunately for Scout, she chooses to side with Atticus.

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In the first chapter of the novel, Scout describes her family background.  She discusses how her ancestors came to Maycomb County.  She also mentions her ancestry even further back:

Being Southerners, it was a source of shame to some members of the family that we had no recorded ancestors on either side of the Battle of Hastings (To Kill a Mockingbird, Chapter 1).

Scout describes how some members of her family are ashamed because they cannot trace their ancestry back to the French or English sides of the Battle of Hastings.  This shows how important family background is in Maycomb's society, as the Battle of Hastings had occurred nearly one thousand years before.

Later in the novel, Aunt Alexandra asks Atticus to instill in his children a sense of pride in their family background.  With hesitation, he agrees to do so:

Atticus suddenly grew serious.  In his lawyer's voice, without a shade of inflection, he said: "Your aunt has asked me to try and impress upon you and Jean Louise that you are not from run-of-the-mill people, that you are the product of several generations' gentle breeding—" Atticus paused, watching me locate an elusive redbug on my leg.

"Gentle breeding," he continued, when I had found and scratched it, "and that you should try to live up to your name—" Atticus persevered in spite of us: "She asked me to tell you you must try to behave like the little lady and gentleman that you are.  She wants to talk to you about the family and what it's meant to Maycomb County through the years, so you'll have some idea of who you are, so you might be moved to behave accordingly," he concluded at a gallop (Chapter 13).

The Finch family has been well respected in Maycomb County for generations.  Aunt Alexandra thinks that Scout and Jem should behave in a way that shows the "gentle breeding" of the Finch family.  She wants them to represent the family well around Maycomb.

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What are at least three quotes from To Kill A Mockingbird about the importance of family?

In To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch, a single father, is very aware of how the environment may affect his children and he has a huge influence on them, even though sometimes life may appear ordinary: ""With him, life was routine; without him, life was unbearable.". He therefore makes sure that they understand what it is like to "climb into his (another man's) skin and walk around in it." Despite knowing that he can never win in his attempts to defend Tom Robinson, Atticus, "the bravest man in the world," is willing to face the wrath of Maycomb County residents in doing the right thing and doing his best for Tom. 

Atticus has a respect for children and their place in the family and that is evident in his treatment of them:

"When a child asks you something, answer him, for goodness' sake. But don't make a production of it. Children are children, but they can spot an evasion quicker than adults."  

Scout is struggling in the face of criticism in school and wants to do as her father asks although she finds it very difficult as she wants to defend her father's image: 

"You might hear some ugly talk about it at school, but do one thing for me if you will: you just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don't you let 'em get your goat."

Aunt Alexander has a completely different approach to children than Atticus but she values family and also wants to ensure that the children receive guidance, especially in the absence of their mother:  

"As you grow older, you'll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don't you forget it - whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash."

Bob Ewell is apparently not a very good father and everyone makes allowances for him as otherwise his children suffer. Atticus stresses:

"...He'll never change his ways. Are you going to take out your disapproval on his children?"

The children also come to realize that, as Jem knows:  

"Atticus says you can choose your friends but you sho' can't choose your family, an' they're still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge 'em or not, and it makes you look right silly when you don't."

Therefore, the reader is constantly reminded about how family is often less than perfect but it is essential in any community and, in fact, it is the responsibility of every member of the community to protect and not to judge others. 

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Provide some quotes from Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird that show life lessons about family and friendships.

Since To Kill a Mockingbird is a literary bildungsroman, lessons about life are required in order for the protagonist to pass the rite of passage from innocence to experience and knowledge. Scout receives lessons about life around every corner and in every chapter it seems. She even gets lessons she doesn't want to learn. For example, she certainly doesn't want to learn from Aunt Alexandra and Jem that she is a girl and shouldn't act or dress like boys. In order for her to grow up properly, however, she needed to learn how to be a girl eventually. This is one brief example of what Scout needs to learn, but there are a few more deeper lessons about family and friends that she also learns that help her to grow to lead a more rounded adult life.

First, one recurring theme that teaches Scout about interacting with neighbors, friends and family has to do with looking at life from another person's perspective. Atticus says it the following way:

"First of all. . . if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view-- until you climb into his skin and walk around in it" (30).

This lesson about striving to understand others' points of view resurfaces on the night the lynch mob goes to the jail for Tom Robinson. Atticus tells Scout that she made Walter Cunningham view the world by standing in her shoes for a few minutes while she was talking to him about his son and being his friend (157). If we all did this in our families and with our friends we would all be better off and experience less fighting in our lives.

Another very popular lesson about friends and family has to do with the title of the book itself. After Atticus tells the kids it's a sin to kill mockingbirds, Miss Maudie explains the following:

"Your father's right. . . Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird" (90).

The mockingbirds are symbols of innocent people from the Boo Radleys of the world to the children like Scout. So many people are judged harshly on misinformation or the lack of facts and Scout learns how true this is during the trial of Tom Robinson and after Boo saves her life from Bob Ewell. It is ironic that the most innocent people are those, like mockingbirds, who are misjudged by the world.

Another lesson about family that might not be as clear as the above-mentioned citations is that family takes care of each other. Each person in the Finch family, including Calpurnia, looks after the other's safety. Jem and Scout rush to their father's side to protect him when he sits outside of the jail to protect Tom Robinson (152-153). Aunt Alexandra even moves in with them in order to protect the children from growing up like hooligans.

Finally, the Finches are also quick to say it's not time to worry so they can comfort one another or approach the drama in their lives with calm intelligence. The following page numbers has one Finch telling someone or each other not to worry, or "it's not time to worry, yet": 62, 70, 134, 137, 143, 154, 213, and 219. There may be even more times mentioned in the book not to worry, but when a phrase is repeated so many times, it's definitely something to notice. If a person can remain calm and deal with family and friends in a calm, rational, and intelligent way, she or he can gain respect and friendship anywhere.

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