In "To Kill a Mockingbird" why did some African Americans forget their birthday or were not sure it was correct?Extra Credit: if I know more about Calpurnia and about slaves and their birthdays in...

In "To Kill a Mockingbird" why did some African Americans forget their birthday or were not sure it was correct?

Extra Credit: if I know more about Calpurnia and about slaves and their birthdays in this book.

Asked on by kaydub

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mrs-campbell's profile pic

mrs-campbell | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Many black people during this time period could not read or write; because of this, they didn't use traditional calendars like we have today; they wouldn't be able to read it.  They kept time in different ways, through the position of the sun, length of the days, and seasonal signs related to the planting of crops.  Because of this, Calpurnia didn't really know the exact day of her birthday.  She states in the book,

"We started rememberin' one time, trying to figure out how old I was...I just have [my birthday] on Christmas, it's easier to remember that way-I don't have a real birthday."

Of course she had a real birthday, but didn't know which day it was on, or even which year.  Keeping track of such things was not as significant for large, poor families back then.  Who could afford to celebrate a birthday, even if they did know how to read the date when one was born?  So, Calpurnia figures that she's "older than Mr. Finch, even...not sure how much though," and that is good enough for her.

marilynn07's profile pic

marilynn07 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted on

Before everyone was born in hospitals and had birth certificates, many people were born at home. Many births were recorded in the Family Bible. If a family was poor or illiterate, the birth may not have been recorded. It was not necessary to have a birth certificate for retirement or many of the things that we take for granted today because Social Security had not always existed.  The only record of a person's birth may have been the doctor's office where they were seen as an infant or in the Family Bible.

 

This does not just pertain to African-Americans but to many rural persons in the South.

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