What does Atticus's comment that Calpurnia "...knows what she means to the family" show about his own prejudices? It is from Chapter 16 in To Kill a Mockingbird

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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After the confrontation at the jail in Chapter 15 of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Atticus and his sister Alexandra have breakfast the next morning.  Naturally, they discuss the events of the previous evening, and Mr. Underwood's defence of Atticus is broached in the conversation.  Atticus remarks,

"You know, it's a funny thing about Braxton.... He despises Negroes, won't have one near him."

Aunt Alexandra waits until Calpurnia leaves the room and is in the kitchen before she chastises Atticus, "Don't talk like that in front of them."  Finding the word them offensive, Atticus asks her, "in front of whom?"  Clearly, he is less than pleased that Alexandra displays the conventional prejudices that Negroes are servants only and should not be privy to conversations of white folks.  Of course, Atticus considers Calpurnia more of an immediate family member than his sister is; consequently, he retorts, "She [Calpurnia] knows what she means to this family."  He scolds Alexandra, who has tried to explain by saying that talking in front of the black maid is not good because "they talk among themselves."  Atticus responds that if "we didn't give them so much to talk about they'd be quiet."


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