Aunt Alexandra tells Calpurnia to take her suitcase upstairs. Jem takes it and Aunt Alexandra tells Scout that she and Atticus decided that it’s time for her to stay “for a while.” In Maycomb, this could mean any length of time. She says that Scout needs a feminine influence. Scout thinks that she has Calpurnia and knows there’s more to it, but she doesn’t press since Aunt Alexandra is irritable on Sundays. The day passes slowly and Jem and Scout race outside when they hear Atticus get home. Scout assures Atticus that she’s thrilled to have Aunt Alexandra, which is a lie. Atticus says that Aunt Alexandra is doing him a favor and that it’ll be a hot summer. Scout doesn’t understand but suspects that this was Aunt Alexandra’s idea.
Scout’s recognition that she Calpurnia is a legitimate feminine influence is correct, and moreover, reveals that there’s more to Aunt Alexandra’s explanation than she lets on. As Scout and the reader will go on to learn, Aunt Alexandra is conservative and racist, suggesting that she probably doesn’t view Calpurnia as an appropriate feminine influence for Scout, simply because of the color of her skin.
Maycomb welcomes Aunt Alexandra. She’s soon a fixture in the social circle and she begins hosting the missionary society. It amuses Jem that Aunt Alexandra often points out the shortcomings of other families, since the Finches are related to almost everyone in Maycomb. She confuses Scout by insisting that fine folks are fine because they’ve been landowners for a long time. Scout thought that fine folks did the best with what they had, and Jem points out that per Aunt Alexandra’s understanding, the Ewells are fine folks.
Jem and Scout’s confusion (as well as their ability to poke holes in Aunt Alexandra’s questionable logic) suggests that children have an innate ability to identify prejudice and hypocrisy like this. It’s clear to them that Aunt Alexandra is simply trying to make out that the Finches are better than everyone else in town. Jem and Scout understand that there’s more to being a good person than owning land, which speaks to their growing sense of morality and compassion.
Scout explains that, to a degree, Aunt Alexandra is right: Maycomb is an old town that became the county seat despite being an island of civilization in a sea of agriculture, so there are very real clans and there’s truth to the idea that everyone in a certain family behaves a particular way. Aunt Alexandra never fits into Jem and Scout’s world. She occasionally snags Scout to speak to Maycomb ladies, though she always looks like she regrets it immediately since Scout is usually dirty. One afternoon, she summons Scout and Jem to the living room to tell them about their esteemed Cousin Joshua. Jem asks if it’s the same Cousin Joshua who, according to Atticus, went crazy and tried to shoot the president. Aunt Alexandra is shocked and offended.
While there’s no real indication of whether Cousin Joshua was as unhinged as Atticus insists he is, it’s telling that Aunt Alexandra is more than willing to simply ignore the more embarrassing parts of family history in favor of focusing on how esteemed they were. Given Aunt Alexandra’s character, it’s unlikely that she’d ever be this forgiving toward someone from any other family in town. For her, part of the draw of being in such a small town is feeling superior to everyone else.
Before bed, Atticus finds Scout and Jem. He awkwardly tells them that Aunt Alexandra wants them to know that they’re from a good family and should behave accordingly. Scout and Jem are stunned. Scout begins to run a comb’s teeth along the edge of her dresser, but Atticus sharply tells her to stop. She begins to cry and buries her head in Atticus’s stomach. She feels that this isn’t her real Atticus and asks if all of this “behavin’ an’ stuff” is going to make things different. Atticus assures her it’s going to be fine and tells her to forget everything. As he leaves, he tells his bewildered children that he’s becoming more like Cousin Joshua every day.
It’s clear to the reader that Aunt Alexandra put Atticus up to this, but that Atticus’s heart isn’t in it. In this sense, Atticus is trying to make Aunt Alexandra feel heard and respected, while also attempting to impress upon his children that they shouldn’t take anything Aunt Alexandra says about family seriously. This is an understandably hard thing for the children to understand, but Atticus’s willingness to go there anyway speaks to his faith in their ability to eventually figure it out.