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"Atticus told me one time that most of this Old Family stuff's foolishness because everybody's family's just as old as everybody else's. I said did that include the colored folks and Englishmen and he said yes."
"Background doesn't mean Old Family," said Jem. "I think it's how long your family's been readin' and writin'. Scout, I've studied this real hard and that's the only reason I can think of. Somewhere along when the Finches were in Egypt one of 'em must have learned a hieroglyphic or two and he taught his boy." Jem laughed. "Imagine Aunty being proud her great-grandaddy could read an' write—ladies pick funny things to be proud of." (23.41-42)
Jem and Scout try to come up with a definition of Aunt Alexandra's mysterious term "background." Literacy isn't a bad approach—literacy means education, which means having a certain class and wealth status. But maybe it's just pride, after all. Maybe it's just knowing that you're better than other people, and coming up with justifications for that after the fact.
"I can't say I approve of everything he does, Maudie, but he's my brother, and I just want to know when this will ever end." Her voice rose: "It tears him to pieces. He doesn't show it much, but it tears him to pieces." (24.76)
For all Aunt Alexandra says about family in the abstract, she does really care about her actual family members. Aw, she's all right.
I learned more about the poor Mrunas' social life from listening to Mrs. Merriweather: they had so little sense of family that the whole tribe was one big family. A child had as many fathers as there were men in the community, as many mothers as there were women. J. Grimes Everett was doing his utmost to change this state of affairs, and desperately needed our prayers. (27.18)
What's so wrong with this picture of Mruna social life? Apparently it works for them, right? Nope. Major problem: it doesn't involve putting people into neat little categories.