What is the difference in the way Calpurnia speaks in the church?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus has to deal with some state business and is away for a short time. The children stay with Calpurnia, as always, and on this occasion, they attend church (First Purchase African M. E. Church) with her one Sunday morning. The children know how to act with respect. At one point, a woman confronts Calpurnia, unhappy to see white children with among the congregation. When challenged by one of her own, Calpurnia speaks the language of her black community. Cal is asked:

"What you up to, Miss Cal?"

Calpurnia's hands went to our shoulders and we stopped and looked around: standing in the path behind us was a tall Negro woman. Her weight was on one leg; she rested her left elbow in the curve of her hip, pointing at us with upturned palm...

To the children, the woman appears to be "seven feet high."

I felt Calpurnia's hand dig into my shoulder. "What you want, Lula?" she asked, in tones I had never heard her use. She spoke quietly, contemptuously.

"I wants to know why you bringin' white chillun to n***er church."

"They's my comp'ny," said Calpurnia. Again I thought her voice strange: she was talking like the rest of them.

And while Lulu continues her confrontation of Calpurnia, the rest of the congregation seems to be moving in on them, but Calpurnia smiles. Her son, Zeebo, speaks to Jem, saying, "Mister Jem...we're mighty glad to have you all here..." And when the children prepare to leave after the service, Rev. Sykes tells the children that "This church has no better friend than your daddy."

When the children ask Calpurnia why she doesn't speak at church the way she speaks with them, she explains that she would feel out of place speaking in a manner that wasn't familiar to those in her church, of which she is a member—the biggest difference is that she is only one of four people in the congregation that can read. So she speaks as those of her community speak when she is with them, and in a manner more familiar to the children when she is with them.

 

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