Eleven-year-old Calpurnia Virginia Tate, or Callie Vee, lives in Texas on a wealthy cotton and pecan farm with her six brothers. Her mother has high expectations of her in terms of sewing, cooking, and learning to be a lady. Unfortunately, Calpurnia has other plans; she is more interested in exploring, scientific inquiry, and figuring out how the world around her works. Her needlework is clumsy, her piano-playing skills are barely acceptable, and every time she tries to cook it turns into a disaster. Her mother forces her to enter her needlework in the fair’s sewing contest, where she wins third place simply because there were only three contestants. Callie is also pressured into taking piano lessons, which she hates except when she plays ragtime for her brothers; her teacher, Miss Brown, holds a recital in which Callie does horribly. As the story progresses, Calpurnia becomes increasingly frustrated with her lot as a girl and the way she is expected to behave and conduct herself. She feels that it is not fair that because she is a girl she cannot go into business or science or even attend the university. Her main struggle in the novel centers on her frustration with what is expected of her, which is in direct conflict with her true desires in life.
Living with her family on the ranch is Calpurnia’s grandfather, Captain Walter Tate, the man who is responsible for increasing the wealth, size, and success of their cotton-growing industry. Because of his efforts and his acquisition of cotton gin to process the crops, the Tate family grew to be wealthy and successful farmers who are admired and respected in their town of Fentress. To most of the children, their grandfather is a frightening figure, with a long, scraggly beard and distant manners. He spends most of his time fidgeting in the library and old shed, which he converted into his laboratory. He collects bugs and plants, reads scientific books, and wanders the ranch in search of interesting scientific specimens. Years earlier, he turned the running of the farm over to his son, Alfred, Calpurnia’s father, and is now enjoying his solitude and retirement. Calpurnia ventures into his library one day, braving his bristly nature to ask him about the two different kinds of grasshoppers she has seen hopping around that hot summer season. She wondered if they were different species and knew that Grandfather would have the...
(The entire section is 972 words.)