The Marginalization of Aunt Alexandra in the novel "To Kill a Mockingbird"

Essay by drawingheartsHigh School, 11th gradeA-, February 2006

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Harper Lee, author of the novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird" exploits various textual features which are used to make characters like Aunt Alexandra marginalized. Throughout the novel she is illustrated as a foil to Atticus's attitudes and beliefs; additionally she symbolizes high-class society during the Great Depression. These techniques position the reader to view Aunt Alexandra as an antagonist.

There are many reasons for the marginalization of characters and these are expressed through different textual techniques. Aunt Alexandra is primarily utilized as a contrast to Atticus through her diverse attitude to his methods of parenting. This is seen when she disagrees to Scouts behaviour and attitude:

"Aunt Alexandra's vision of my deportment involved playing with small stoves, tea sets and wearing the Add-A-Pearl necklace she gave me when I was born; furthermore, I should be a ray of light in my father's lonely life." (p87)

This shows her overall attitude towards the ways that Atticus has raised Scout to be comfortable as a child, who can choose what sort of behaviour she wants, either as a good little girl or a bit of a tomboy.

Aunt Alexandra doesn't see this as appropriate and said that Scout shouldn't be doing anything that required pants. Because of this whole disagreement and the fact that both Aunt Alexandra and Atticus had major roles in her life, Scout is pulled in two opposing directions.

Further along the novel, it can be distinguished by both the reader and Scout, the paths that each individual wants her to follow. Aunt Alexandra is brought into the Finch household so that Scout can have a female role model, and she starts by signifying Calpurnia's inferior position, as a black woman who does not have any power. She demonstrates this by her first words when she first arrives at the house.

"Put the bag in the front bedroom, Calpurnia." (p127)

Up until this point, Calpurnia had been a figure of admiration to Scout, as she had acted as a motherly figure through her years of dedicated service and love for the Finches, but with this comment, we instantly see the lack of respect that Aunt Alexandra has towards her. Aunt Alexandra does not say "please" or "thank you", all she says is a simple command forcing Calpurnia into subservience. She senses the connection between the family and the black nanny, and with this she attempts to get rid of her.

"And don't try and get around it. You've got to face it sooner or later and it might as well be tonight. We don't need her now." (p157)

In both the 1930's, when the book was set and the 1960's when it was written, any relationship with a black person other than direct employment caused scandals and gossip. This was particularly the case in Maycomb, where racism was in every narrow minded person. Aunt Alexandra wanted to get rid of Calpurnia for the good of the family's reputation, but what she only slightly began to see is that the family did not predominantly care about such issues as they did for the bond that the black nanny created.

Aunt Alexandra labels all blacks as being "trash" but she does not stop there. Her attitude towards any group or person that she considers to be lower than her on the social pyramid of Maycomb is distinguished with her attitude towards the Cunninghams, when Scout suggests that she should invite one over.

"She took off her glasses and stared at me. 'I'll tell you why,' she said. Because - he - is - trash, that's why you can't play with him, picking up his habits and learning Lord-knows-what.'" (p231)

This shows her symbolism of the high class society. Aunt Alexandra regards herself and the rest of the Finches as the "royalty of Maycomb" and she tries to make Scout understand this notion. She believes that no Finch should associate with people who have low social statuses; instead she makes Scout attend missionary teas and wear dresses. Overall she becomes an egotistical and respect-demanding symbol for the "high class society" of Maycomb, who, primarily because of the Great Depression, were not necessarily rich in terms of money, but mostly due to the fact that they owned land.

In conclusion, readers are positioned to feel indifference to Aunt Alexandra and to see her as an antagonist. This is because of the way she looks down on others. She considers herself to be superior to the rest of the society Her attitude towards the upbringing of her niece and nephew brings a stronger insight of Atticus' character as seen by his comments at a number of different times.