How does the experience at Calpurnia's church affect Jem and Scout's perception of Calpurnia in To Kill a Mockingbird?Any quotes from the book to back up the response are much appreciated :)

Expert Answers
schulzie eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the beginning of the book, Scout tells us that Calpurnia has

"....been with us ever since Jem was born, and I had felt her tyrannical presence as long as I could remember." (pg 6)

However, when they visit Calpurnia's church, they were confronted with discrimination when Lula says that the white chillun have their own church and should not come into a "nigger church".  When Lula approaches the children, Calpurnia becomes indignant and tells her that

"It's the same God, ain't it?" (pg 119)

At this point, Scout notices that Calpurnia's language has changed. 

"I thought her voice strange: she was talking like the rest of them." (pg 119)

When they entered the church, it was unlike any church they had been in.  There were no hymnbooks, no organ, no piano, and no church program. When they sang, one person sang, and then the rest echoed those words.  Later when Scout asks why there were no hymnbooks, organ, piano, and why they sang that way, Calpurnia explained that it wouldn't do any good to have those things because..

"They can't read!" (pg 124)

Scout then learns that Calpurnia is one of four people in the whole church who can read and another one is Zeebo, her son.  She had taught him to read. 

They also realized that Calpurnia led "a modest double life" (pg 125) She had an existence outside of the one that she shared with them, and she spoke black English as well as white English.  When they asked her why she didn't speak white English to the black people, Calpurnia tells them,

"Suppose you and Scout talked colored folks' talk at home, it'd be out of place, wouldn't it?  Now what if I talked white-folks' talk at church, and with my neighbors?  They'd think I was puttin' on airs to beat Moses." (pg 126)

Scout insists that she could teach the black folks how to speak correct English, but Calpurnia states,

"You're not gonna change any of them by talkin' right, they've got to want to learn themselves, and when they don't want to learn there's nothing you can do but keep your mouth shut and talk their language." (pg 126)

Jem and Scout gained a new respect for Calpurnia during that visit to the church.  They understood that she stood up for her principles, she educated herself and her son, and she knew she could speak two languages to make everyone feel comfortable and approachable. Scout realizes the strong separation there is between the two societies and  that she can learn something from Calpurnia's life. She asks Calpurnia if she can come to visit her at her home.  Calpurnia graciously welcomes her, but Aunt Alexandra quickly puts a stop to that .  

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jem's and Scout's visit to First Purchase Church in the Quarters provides them with a great learning experience about the African American population of Maycomb. Jem and Scout have little or no contact with black folks aside from Calpurnia, and their visit was a positive one. The children found the congregation friendly and welcoming (aside from Lula), and they soon realized that "Jem and I had heard the same sermon Sunday after Sunday." As for Calpurnia, the children discovered that Cal and her son, Zeebo, were among the few parishioners who had learned to read or write. Cal was respected among the congregation, in part because of her education but also because of her position as Atticus's housekeeper. The kids were most surprised to find that Cal "led a modest double life... outside our household"--that she spoke proper English in the Finch house but talked like "the rest of the colored folks" when she was among her friends. Cal explained that she did so because, otherwise,

"They'd think I was puttin' on airs to beat Moses. ... folks don't like to have somebody around knowin' more than they do. It aggrevates 'em."  (Chapter 12)

Scout was so impressed with this unknown side of Calpurnia that she wanted to know more.

     "Cal, can I come to see you sometimes?... Out to your house...
     "Any time you want to," she said. "We'd be glad to have you."  (Chapter 12)

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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