In the book To Kill a Mockingbird in the chapter in which aunt Alexandra has come to stay with Jem & Scout at Maycomb county, she has a private chat with Atticus about Scout and Jem not knowing their heritage. After the chat Atticus comes to the kids' bedroom and delivers his lawyerly monologue about the need for Jem and Scout to remember they are Finches and behave accordingly.

This un-Atticus like behaviour unnerves the children and when Scout cries, he relents and tell them to forget what he just said. Atticus is visibly frustrated and while leaving makes the remark

"Get more like Cousin Joshua every day, don't I? Do you think I'll end up costing the family five hundred dollars?"

At the end of this Scout has the following thought

I know now what he was trying to do, but Atticus was only a man. It takes a woman to do that kind of work.

What "work" was Scout refering to? Is this in a negative connotation (eg work=fear obligation guilt) or something more positive (like making the children feel better)

3 Answers 3


Its clear to see in To Killing A Mockingbird that Atticus cares for his children.

Aunt Alexandra comes to visit the children because she feels they need some

"feminine influence"

after all they have no mother.

Aunt Alexandra is shocked by Jem's description of Cousin Joshua and asks Atticus to speak to his children about their

"gentle breeding"

and she expects him to remind the children that they are not

"run of the mill people".

In this chapter Atticus talks to the children and tells Scout to be more ladylike and Jem to become more of a gentlemen. The children (being their age) do not properly grasp the context Atticus talks about and Scout begins to cry.

When Atticus says

"Get more like Cousin Joshua every day, don't I? Do you think I'll end up costing the family five hundred dollars?"

He was trying to reassure his children by suggesting that maybe he might cost the family money like Cousin Joshua. Scout however recognizes Atticus' efforts to comfort her and she understands what he was trying to do, she respects Atticus trying to comfort them but she realizes that he lacks a mothers ability to nurture their children as it does not come naturally to him. Scout is referring to the absence of their motherly role in their family more than being sexist or prejudiced.


I believe that it meant that Atticus had difficulty not only with comforting them, as was more of a motherly role, but also had difficulty communicating pride in heritage. I believe that that type of education, education about the family morals and values, as well as proper etiquette, was typically in the mother's wheelhouse and her responsibility in the family.

  • 3
    Do you have a reference for the claim in your last sentence?
    – bobble
    Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 15:54

It seems she meant his attempt in comforting them, as in the instance of the 1930s women were busied with the hospitality of children while men worked laborious jobs and were generally uninvolved in the personal lives of their children (untrue in Atticus’ case, but the point remains).

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