Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

Start Free Trial

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

Expert Answers

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

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. 

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

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..."

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

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. 

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