A main conflict that is highlighted throughout the novel is that of the expected roles of males and females in the society of the late 1800s. Calpurnia, being the only girl in a family of boys, is hit extra hard with these expectations because as all hopes of femininity rest on her. Even Calpurnia’s grandfather does not fight against the tide of expected female roles; he enjoys Callie’s company and teaches her all he can, but he does not protest when she is taken away for piano or cooking lessons. Her brothers perpetuate the stereotypes when they tell Calpurnia that she should learn to cook and sew and they refuse to let her join in chores, tasks, and pursuits in which they think only boys should participate. Calpurnia comes to the realization that she will have a hard battle ahead of her if she wants to step outside these roles. For most of the novel, she feels trapped and hopeless; she thinks that her entire life is laid out before her and that she must force herself to fit into the role of domestic housewife and mother of children. The frustration she feels over that sense of hopelessness leads her to extreme melancholy and anger; she does not express how she feels out of respect for her mother’s feelings and a sense of the futility of struggling with the strong forces aligned against her. Even at the end of the book, readers do not know if Callie will be allowed to pursue the things that truly make her happy as opposed to things that society expects her to be simply because she is female.
As Calpurnia discovers the joy of observation, prediction, and other methods of scientific inquiry, her fascination with the world around her increases. From the opening pages of the novel, she is a curious and keen observer of the world around her. She constantly questions why things are the way they are. Her grandfather plays the role of mentor and illuminator, helping Callie and the reader open their eyes to all of the scientific knowledge has gathered up to...
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