In Chapter 12 of To Kill a Mockingbird, Calpurnia's vitalization of two dialects confuses Scout. What valuable lesson does Scout learn from Calpurnia's explanation?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Her vitalization of two dialects teaches Scout that Calpurnia occupies two worlds.

In Chapter 12 Calpurnia takes the children to her church, the First Purchase African Methodist Episcopalian Church. There Jem and Scout witness a side of Calpurnia that they have not known. For, when she is confronted by a tall, formidable woman who displays Indian features, Calpurnia responds with an indignant tone and in a thick dialect.

"I wants to know why you bringin' white chillun to a nigger church." 
"They's my comp'ny," said Calpurnia.

Scout remarks, "Again I thought her voice strange: she was talking like the rest of them." 

After the service is over and the children walk with Calpurnia, Scout asks her why she speaks in the dialect of African-Americans in her church. Calpurnia explains that if she were to talk as she does in the Finch home, people would think that she is "putting on airs to beat Moses." Further, she explains that many in the congregation cannot read or write and they do not like someone around them who "knows more than they do" as it shames them. She adds that no one can change someone by speaking properly; the change must come from within the person. Therefore, all one can do is speak as they do, or keep her mouth closed. These words of Calpurnia affect Scout, who learns that people can only change if they themselves desire a change.


gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Towards the end of Chapter 12, Scout and Jem bring up the fact that Calpurnia speaks differently around her African American community members than she does around the Finch household. Scout then asks Calpurnia why she speaks differently around her folks when she knows it's not right. Cal begins by telling Scout, "Well, in the first place I'm black---" (Lee 77). Calpurnia then proceeds to explain to Scout that it would seem out of place if she spoke with correct English in front of her community members. She also mentions that her neighbors would think she was "puttin' on airs to beat Moses" (Lee 77). Cal then tells Scout that even though she knows how to speak correct English, it would not be considered lady-like to tell all she knows. Cal believes that people typically become aggravated when someone knows more than them. Calpurnia finds it best to speak like the rest of her community members when she is in their presence so that she will fit in and not aggravate them. Scout learns an important lesson in exercising humility from Calpurnia's explanation. 

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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