Explain Calpurnia's role in the Finch household and what does this show about the family?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Calpurnia is the Finch family's African American cook and housekeeper. She also serves as Scout's untitled surrogate mother. Calpurnia is treated and viewed as part of the Finch family. Atticus trusts Calpurnia and gives her the freedom to chastise Scout whenever she misbehaves. Although Scout has a difficult relationship with Cal towards the beginning of the novel, Scout still loves and respects her. Calpurnia not only feeds and takes care of the children when Atticus isn't home, but she also takes Jem and Scout to her church. Atticus's comments to Aunt Alexandra summarize Cal's role in the Finch family when he says,

"Alexandra, Calpurnia’s not leaving this house until she wants to. You may think otherwise, but I couldn’t have got along without her all these years. She’s a faithful member of this family and you’ll simply have to accept things the way they are...Besides, I don’t think the children’ve suffered one bit from her having brought them up. If anything, she’s been harder on them in some ways than a mother would have been... she’s never let them get away with anything, she’s never indulged them the way most colored nurses do. She tried to bring them up according to her lights, and Cal’s lights are pretty good—and another thing, the children love her" (Lee, 138).

Calpurnia is more than simply the family's cook and maid. She is considered a valuable member of the Finch family.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Calpurnia is more than a housekeeper and cook. She is part of the family. She is a teacher to Scout and Jem. She is a caring but strict disciplinarian. Calpurnia treats Scout and Jem as she would her own children.

Atticus trusts Calpurnia. He supports her and gives her the authority she needs to discipline the children. When Scout is upset with Calpurnia for correcting her manners concerning the Cunningham boy, Atticus sides with Calpurnia. He knows that Calpurnia loves Scout and Jem as she would her very own children. This shows that Atticus is not prejudiced in any way. Also, his children do not judge Calpurnia based on her skin color.

Atticus does not worry over his children when he is at work. He knows Calpurnia is watching over them carefully. In fact, Atticus trusts that Calpurnia will not only feed the children, but she acts in their mother's absence. In a sense, Calpurnia is like the children's mother. Calpurnia has raised the children since their mother died four years ago. Atticus trusts whole heartedly in Calpurnia's judgment:

She has helped to raise Jem and Scout since their mother's death four years ago. Like Atticus, Calpurnia is a strict but loving teacher, particularly in regard to Scout, whose enthusiasm sometimes makes her thoughtless.

Calpurnia even takes the children to church with her. She is not worried about what the children will think. She is comfortable sharing her personal life with the children. Indeed, Calpurnia is family. She understands her role. She loves the children. The children love her as well. Again, she treats them as if they were her own children.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial