In the novel "To Kill a Mockingbird" What is Calpurnia's place in the Finch house?

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amy-lepore's profile pic

amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Calpurnia is a surrogate mother to the Finch children.  Their mother is gone, and Calpurnia is the woman who does the household duties of cooking, cleaning, looking after and loving the children.  She is no pushover, and she certainly has her opinions.  However, as a black lady in this time period, she normally keeps them to herself unless asked point-blank.  She is honest with the children, and she helps Scout understand and adjust to her alienation when Jem begins to find his own way from "boy" to "man".  She takes her job seriously and it is without a doubt that she loves the Finch children and their father since they are fair-minded and honorable people. 

When Alexandria comes into the picture, Calpurnia's place is pushed a little to the side, but Atticus will not allow his sister to get rid of Calpurnia altogether since he has known the woman forever and understands her family needs the money her job with the Finches provides.

mancityrules's profile pic

mancityrules | Student, Grade 9 | (Level 1) Honors

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Calpurnia is the Finches’ black cook acting as a stern disciplinarian and a surrogate mother for Jem and Scout. Atticus trusts and relies on her entirely describing her in Chapter 14 as a “faithful member of the family”. Calpurnia is kind and loving towards the children and is only stern towards them in their best interests.

Atticus trusts Cal with the care of his children, valuing her loyalty and supporting her when Aunt Alexandra is critical. Atticus states that “Calpurnia’s not leaving the house until she wants to” (142) which shows that Atticus feels that she has free will and therefore treats her as a family member and not as a servant.

When Scout treats Walter Cunningham discourteously at lunch it is Calpurnia’s job to reprimand her. We learn that Calpurnia, despite clashes between the white and black population in Maycomb during the Civil War, has adopted her own view of how people should be treated with justice and fairness. She partakes in Scout’s moral education by teaching her that everyone is entitled to respect, courtesy and tolerance.

She is also the children’s bridge between the white world and her own black community. For example in Chapter 12 it is through her that Scout learns more about the difficulties faced by the Robinson family and in Chapter 22 Atticus askes her to than the black community for their gifts to him. Also it is Calpurnia who Atticus asks, in chapter 24, to accompany him when he goes to tell Helen Robinson that her husband Tom has been shot.

Harper Lee shows us another side to Calpurnia through the visit to the First Purchase Church in chapter 12. Scout observes the evident change in Calpurnia in the black community as part of her education and she learns that “Calpurnia led a modest double life” (131). This included an extended family, a different language and alternative ways of doing things. When Scout questions this Cal explains that “it'd be out of place” if she spoke “coloured-folks’ talk” in the Finch household (132).

Calpurnia teaches Scout and Jem about community values, and their relativity: what’s right in one place may be wrong in another. However Atticus is well-known for being “the same in his house as he is on the public streets” (52) and that is perceived as a positive aspect as it shows that he sticks to his principles. Harper Lee shows readers that Calpurnia has to adapt herself depending on the community she’s in because of her racial group. This emphasises the amount of prejudice that can be seen within the residents of Maycomb.

Seeing Calpurnia in relation to the black community causes Scout to realize that Cal “had a separate existence outside our household” (131). This revelation sparks Scout’s curiosity about Calpurnia and triggers her to ask basic questions and Scout sees Cal in a more mature point of view and not just the family cook.

bckr's profile pic

bckr | Student | eNotes Newbie

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calpurnia is the finch's maid/mother.. she takes care of the children,cooks and treats them like her own kids. she teaches scout what is right

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