Sunday, August 19, 2012

Character AnalysisAunt Alexandra

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The Maycomb ladies provide an excellent example of racial prejudice, and a failure to see what it is like in someone else’s skin. They believe they are doing well by making money for missions, failing to see the hardship on their own doorsteps. Aunt Alexandra is very important to the novel, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ as she is a representative of these viewpoints, disapproving of Calpurnia and disassociating herself from the black community entirely. Miss Maudie however is the counterpoint to Aunt Alexandra. Maudie offers Scout a female role model, whereas Aunt Alexandra tries to make Scout more ladylike, to fit in with her position in life. Aunt Alexandra plays the greatest role in reinforcing class distinctions within the Finch family. As she believes that because the Finch family comes from a long line of landowners, who have been in the county for generations, they deserve greater respect than other people do and therefore must behave according to their status. However her prejudice alienates her from the tolerant Finches, but she fits in well with the rest of Maycomb.

Aunt Alexandra has strict and traditional ideas of how society works and the role for a Southern woman within it, which she tries to enforce upon Scout at the beginning to this novel. ‘When I said I could do nothing in a dress, she said I wasn’t supposed to be doing things that required pants.’ Scout immediately takes a dislike to Aunt Alexandra when she criticises her about her overalls. Aunt Alexandra fits in well with the neighbours in Maycomb, but not with the children, as she demands different standards of behaviour from what they are used to. Aunt Alexandra does create an impact during her stay when trying to influence the children during their crucial years of growing up. Atticus is worried that he is not doing his best for his children and is torn between being courteous to his sister and raising Jem and Scout as he sees fit. ‘Your aunt has asked me to try and impress upon you and Jean Louise that you are not from run-of-the-mill people,’ ‘She asked me to tell you….’ Atticus doesn’t really want to do this but realises it’s important to his sister, Jem and Scout can sense this as he keeps saying ‘She asked me to tell you…’ Aunt Alexandra plays a major role in Jem and Scout’s understanding of Atticus’s teachings on racial discrimination and prejudice. She provides an excellent example to the children of the type of discrimination, which goes on in Maycomb County when she expresses her views. However, she takes some of Atticus’s teaching into account during her stay and provides the children with one of the greatest lessons she could give them, when throughout the novel she learns to be less prejudiced herself, helping the children to learn to be less prejudiced towards her.

Miss Maudie however is a sympathetic presence in the children’s lives, and is a positive influence on their development. She is liked and respected by Jem and Scout probably due to her understanding of them. Unlike Aunt Alexandra she treats them with kindness and respect, she genuinely enjoys their company, bakes them cakes and most importantly does not talk down to them, showing clearly how Aunt Alexandra and her differ, although they both have the children’s best interests at heart. Miss Maudie can see that Aunt Alexandra is trying to convert Scout from a tomboy to a respectable young lady, however she understands Scout better than Aunt Alexandra does and realises that Scout won’t convert to the ideal niece Aunt Alexandra wants her to be just because she’s made to wear a dress occasionally. Miss Maudie shows the reader why Jem and Scout respect her so much at the missionary tea party, You’re mighty dressed up, Miss Jean Louise,’ she said. ‘Where are your britches today?’ ‘Under my dress.’ showing Scout that she is not like all the other Maycomb ladies that her aunt wants her to be like and she does have a full understanding of her. Miss Maudie and Aunt Alexandra differ greatly in some aspects, as Miss Maudie has not time for hypocrisy and is always straightforward and honest with the children. The children can see that Miss Maudie is very like Atticus in many ways. She shares similar beliefs to Atticus especially about prejudice and lack of humanity. When Miss Maudie describes the trial as a ‘Roman carnival,’ this image sticks in Scout’s head and helps her to understand that Miss Maudie is a very individual character, who shows courage by holding views different from those of other people in Maycomb.

Miss Crawford disapproves of the children being in court, especially on the Coloured balcony. Miss Maudie however treats the children no differently and even bakes them cakes as a treat. When Jem arrives home heartbroken from the verdict, Aunt Alexandra says to Atticus ‘I didn’t think it wise in the first place to let them-’ showing that she disapproved strongly of the children going to the court room and if he had listened to her then Jem wouldn’t have been affected like he is now. However, she doesn’t realise that it helped the children in their understanding of Atticus’s teachings to go to the court and witness Maycomb’s ways. Miss Maudie and Atticus, however both realise this but Aunt Alexandra doesn’t realise that Jem has to learn the harsh realities of life.

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Miss Maudie sees the great effect that this case has had on Jem so while trying to explain the situation to him, she treats him as an adult ‘Jem Finch, I called to find out if you and your colleagues can eat some cake.’ She’s blunt but shows kindness and understanding by addressing Jem as an adult, showing that she fully understands the children’s emotional situation and how to help them get through this difficult stage of development by learning the harsh realities of life. Miss Maudie’s religious believes also influence the children’s development especially Jem’s, as to Miss Maudie Christianity is about loving one’s neighbour and treating people equally. She understands that in certain times in life a Christian is called upon to live up to these beliefs. ‘We’re the safest folk in the world,’ said Miss Maudie. ‘We’re so rarely called on to be Christians, but when we are, we’ve got men like Atticus to go for us.’ Miss Maudie comforts Jem by giving him hope for the future, she makes him realise that Atticus made the jury think and consider another verdict, signifying hope. ‘We’re making a step - it’s just a baby-step, but it’s a step.’

Miss Maudie is kind and sensitive and has a good way of explaining the situation, which also helps the reader respect Atticus for what he did, as the reader now realises that his job is an extremely unpleasant one. Aunt Alexandra shows a side more a like to Atticus and Miss Maudie when she surprises the reader and shows genuine concern about Tom’s death. ‘Tom’s dead.’ Aunt Alexandra put her hands to her mouth.’ The reader sees her concern for Atticus, which has brought her to see the situation from his point of view and not the point of view that the other Maycomb ladies would share. Scout learns to admire the dignity and self-control. Maybe she realises that background is not merely a matter of coming from a ‘good’ family, but is more a matter of having the courage to try to do what is right, even if it is against social custom. However we can still see the definite difference between Miss Maudie and Aunt Alexandra as Miss Maudie’s definition does of course mean that it is possible for a Negro family to have a ‘background’, whereas Aunt Alexandra’s definition wouldn’t allow such a possibility. It is interesting to note the change in Aunt Alexandra. Her love for her brother and the knowledge of what this case has cost him emotionally has separated her from the views of the other Maycomb ladies. She is very grateful to Miss Maudie when she sticks up for Atticus when Mrs Merriweather insulted him, ‘His food doesn’t stick going down, does it?’ This shows that Miss Maudie and Aunt Alexandra both share concern for Atticus and are willing to oppose Maycomb’s views and stick up for him.

The reader can sense I change to Aunt Alexandra during the course of the novel, especially in the last few chapters when Jem and Scout are attacked. Aunt Alexandra redeems herself and realises the importance of the children’s well being and not their status, she becomes a changed women in both the reader’s and Scout’s eyes. ‘Are you all right, darling?’ she asked over and over as she worked me free. The reader also sees a definite change to Auntie when she hands Scout her overalls, ‘the garments she most despised.’ She blames herself for the attack and shows care and tenderness in the final crisis.

Both Miss Maudie and Aunt Alexandra are important role models to Scout and Jem at the end of this novel. Especially Aunt Alexandra as she shows the children that there is hope in Maycomb for people to alter their ways and views like she’s started to achieve in the last few chapters to this book. Jem and Scout don’t have a mother figure in their lives but Miss Maudie acts as a feminine role model, helping Atticus to guide them towards the right understanding of life. From this analysis of the two characters Miss Maudie and Aunt Alexandra, it is very clear that they both care very much for the welfare of the children although they go about showing it in very different ways.



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