What are the similarities and differences between Calpurnia and Miss Maudie in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Both Calpurnia and Miss Maudie serve as mother figures for Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It is true that Atticus does a terrific job of parenting the precocious Scout, but sometimes Scout needs the influence of a woman to help her see new things or to reinforce some of the things Atticus tells her.

Other women in Scout's life have an influence on her. Consider Miss Caroline, her teacher, who manages to make Scout hate school in one day. Consider Aunt Alexandra who wants Scout to change in a variety of ways simply because she does not think Scout is looking or acting properly. Miss Stephanie Crawford spreads ridiculous rumors which feed Scout's fascination with Boo Radley. 

All of these women are part of Scout's growing up; however, it is Calpurnia and Miss Maudie who wield the most influence both because of their proximity and their wisdom. 

Calpurnia is the woman who is most responsible for Scout's discipline. She does her best to help Scout understand the right and wrong of social behaviors. When Walter Cunningham eats with the family, for example, it is Calpurnia who scolds Scout for her rude and disrespectful behavior. She reminds the girl:

"...anybody sets foot in this house's yo comp'ny, and don't let me catch you remarkin' on their ways like you was so high and mighty!"

Atticus allows her to do this, of course, so it is clear that Cal has permission to discipline Scout as necessary. 

Calpurnia tries to instill in Scout the rules of etiquette and proper manners. She makes sure that Scout is dressed properly for church and demands that both Scout and Jem behave properly when they are in public and representing Atticus and the family.

The other side of this relationship is that Calpurnia loves Scout. Though she holds her to high standards and is not shy about correcting Scout when she is wrong, she also does the things a mother would do for Scout. When she can see Scout is having a particularly difficult time, she makes her some special treats to help ease the pain. When both kids fail to show up for dinner, she is concerned enough to interrupt Atticus in court out of her worry. Calpurnia is a wise woman who is an excellent substitute for a "real" mother. She loves Scout enough to do and say the hard things which are going to make Scout a better person.

The same is true of Miss Maudie, though she is not as directly influential as Calpurnia. Her role and her love for Scout are more passive. When Scout does not understand something, she talks to Miss Maudie and things become clearer. For example, she tries to make Scout understand the fine qualities Atticus has, things which Scout does not fully appreciate. She tells Scout that Atticus

"the same in his house as he is on the public streets."

This doesn't seem like much to Scout at first, but Miss Maudie manages to make Scout understand the value of this virtue. She also tells Scout that Atticus does what no one else would do and is a better man drunk than most men are sober. Miss Maudie also provides a balance to people like Miss Stephanie Crawford, calling Miss Stephanie's comments what they are--wild and exaggerated gossip.

Though one has an active role and one takes a more passive role in Scout's life, both Calpurnia and Miss Maudie serve as surrogate mothers to the motherless Scout. With a man like Atticus for a father, a mother may not seem too necessary; however, clearly both women are instrumental in Scout's development in nearly every way. 

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