In Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, how is Calpurnia influenced by the world she lives in?

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Calpurnia is Atticus Finch's cook and nanny. She has a grownup son named Zeebo and she lives in the black section of town. She's watched over Jem and Scout Finch for about four years when the story begins, and as Atticus tells his sister Alexandra, Calpurnia is the only mother the children have ever really known. As a result, Calpurnia loves the children, but she also doesn't allow them to treat her like a push-over or a servant. In fact, Calpurnia is allowed to scold, lecture, or punish the children within reason; and she even teaches Scout to write before she enters the first grade. Calpurnia also teaches the children manners. More specifically, Calpurnia feels the need to lecture Scout in chapter three when the little girl embarasses Walter Cunningham, Jr. at lunch. Calpurnia tells Scout the following:

"Hush your mouth! Don't matter who they are, anybody sets foot in this house's yo' comp'ny, and don't you let me catch you remarkin' on their ways like you was so high and mighty! Yo' folks might be better'n the Cunninghams but it don't count for nothin' the way you're disgracin' 'em--if you can't act fit to eat at the table you can just set here and eat in the kitchen!" (24-25).

This passage shows that Calpurnia's world has taught her to treat others with respect no matter who they are. Cal has also learned that the way one person treats others determines his or her quality of character; and, it's important for her to teach Scout these good qualities.

Calpurnia also knows there are lines drawn between white and black folks. She knows, for example, when Atticus doesn't come back from the legislature on a Sunday that she needs to take the children to church. She can't attend the children's church because she isn't welcome there; so, her choices are either to drop them off unattended or take them to her church. Calpurnia bravely takes the two white children to her black church to uphold Christian values on Sunday. However, she knows that she may receive some flack for it. Fortunately, only Lula asks why Calpurnia has brought the children to their church. Calpurnia shows her strength of will and character by responding with "It's the same God, ain't it?" (119). Then Calpurnia ignores Lula and walks the children into church with her son Zeebo who welcomes the children heartily. Calpurnia doesn't let prejudice influence her decision.

Calpurnia knows her place in the world of segregated Maycomb, though. She keeps her nose out of white people's conversations and gossip; she does the best she can with Jem and Scout; and she is loyal to her employer. She's learned to keep her head up but her mouth closed in social situations that involve white people; but, she is also available upon request to step in and help as needed. If Calpurnia existed in today's world, she probably would have gone to college and become a professional in her chosen field of study, whatever that may be, because she is highly intelligent and wise. In the 1930s, however, she is forced to make her way in a prejudiced world that only allows her to become a house servant or a field hand. She does the best with what she has, which qualifies her as "fine folks" per Scout's definition.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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