How does Calpurnia represent a "bridge" between Maycomb's black and white communities in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Atticus is not the only white man who employs a black housekeeper in To Kill a Mockingbird. For instance, Mrs. Grace Merriweather, "the most devout lady in Maycomb," employs a maid named Sophy. However, while Atticus pays Calpurnia a fair wage and considers her "a faithful member of this family," Mrs. Merriweather pays Sophy "her dollar and a quarter every week" and refers to her as a "sulky darky." Calpurnia is a literate African American woman, taught to read and write by Miss Maudie's aunt, "old Miss Buford." (Attending school was not a requirement during the early 20th century, and many Negroes did not go to school.) She is one of the few members of her church who can read and write; she has passed this on to her son, Zeebo, and she has taught Scout how to write cursive. Calpurnia worked for Atticus's father when she was younger, and she followed Atticus to Maycomb after he was married. Atticus has complete confidence in Calpurnia: According to Scout,

... Atticus always took her side...

and Atticus defends Cal when his sister, Alexandra, wants her fired, proclaiming that

"... I couldn't have got along without her all these years... We still need Cal as much as we ever did."

But more importantly, Cal is a capable and trusted woman who serves as the surrogate mother for Jem and Scout. Atticus believes that

"... I don't think the children have suffered one bit from her having brought them up... she's never let them get away with anything... She tried to bring them up according to her lights, and Cal's lights are pretty good--and another thing, the children love her."

Because of Cal's close relationship with Atticus--who is in turn the most respected white man in Maycomb's black community--Cal is highly respected by the local black population. She is able to navigate within both the black and white worlds, at least as much as any Negro woman can in 1930s Maycomb: She sleeps at Atticus's house when necessary; Tom's black friends leave the food for Atticus with Calpurnia after the trial; Atticus calls on Cal to accompany him when he informs Helen Robinson of her husband's death; her church welcomes Jem and Scout when she brings the "white chillun to nigger church"; and she is even invited by Aunt Alexandra--a great cook in her own right--to prepare the food for her all-important Missionary Circle tea.

angels9286 | Student

Calpurnia is a stern disciplinarian and the children’s bridge between the white world and her own black community. Calpurnia takes them to a perdomently African American church. Jem and Scout were sceptical at first but they eventually got used to the church because of the kind hearted people in the church that welcomed them in like their own race. Even though that was a risky task to do Calpurnia did not find it an draconian task on and had the courage to take to somewhere she knew the childern did not belong.Which leads me to my other point Calpurnia herself symbolizes something a gift to the childern showing them that race shouldnt mattter.This ties in with the gift of respect she gave them as she took them to the church. As you read this essay you will come to realize that To Kill A Mocking bird is not just another book or another movie that you may see it is a great story and also a great lesson to carry with you through life.

dancer4life15 | Student

I think it is important to look at the part in the book when Scout asks Calpurnia why she talked like a black person at the First Purchase church.  Calpurnia has the education and the knowledge to appear like a white person through her mannerism of speech, yet she is also able to fit into the black community of Maycomb.  Although Calpurnia works for Atticus she is regarded as a member of the family, not an employee.  I think in many ways Calpurnia is more white then black.  I think this was done to emphasize that there really is no difference between black people and white people, as Scout said there is only one kind of folks, folks. 

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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