What does Scout learn about Calpurnia in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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gmuss25's profile pic

gmuss25 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Distinguished Educator

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In Chapter 12, Calpurnia takes Jem and Scout to Sunday service at First Purchase African American M.E. Church. As a result of their visit, Scout learns some information about Calpurnia that she never knew. Scout learns that Calpurnia is older than her father and that she celebrates her birthday on Christmas. Scout also learns that a significant percentage of the African American community is illiterate and that Calpurnia taught Zeebo how to read. Scout was previously unaware that Calpurnia was raised on Finch Landing and worked at the Buford Place before moving to the Finch household. Calpurnia tells the children after church that Miss Buford taught her how to read. Scout begins to notice that Calpurnia lives a "modest double life" and has "command of two languages." Calpurnia has the ability to speak traditionally proper English around the Finch household, but she speaks informally around her community members. This fascinates Scout and Jem. At the end of the chapter, Scout asks Calpurnia if she could visit her at her house sometime after work. 

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Scout learns several things about Calpurnia:

  • On her first day of school when Jem brings Walter Cunningham home for lunch, Calpurnia does not permit Scout to deprecate Walter as "just a Cunningham." She scolds Scout that Walter is her company. Further, she tells Scout that if she cannot be polite, she will have to eat in the kitchen.
  • When Scout returns from her first day, she narrates that Calpurnia "bent down and kissed me." Calpurnia has missed Scout, and she truly loves the child. Later, Scout notes that the "tyranny, unfairness, and meddling" in her "business" has lessened.
  • When Calpurnia takes the children to church, Scout perceives Calpurnia in a different environment from that to which she is accustomed. It is again evident from the beginning that Calpurnia loves Jem and Scout. When Lula accosts Calpurnia, she pulls herself up and protects the children. "They's my comp'ny." Scout notices that Calpurnia speaks differently from her usual manner. When Jem observes, "....they don't want us here--" she agrees with Jem.
  • The children also notice that Calpurnia speaks differently with her fellow congregation members. When they ask her about this, she tells the children that the congregation cannot read. She adds that Miss Maudie Atkinson's aunt, Miss Buford, has taught her her letters.
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