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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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Comparing and contrasting Aunt Alexandra and Calpurnia in their roles as mother figures in To Kill a Mockingbird

Summary:

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Aunt Alexandra and Calpurnia serve as contrasting mother figures to Scout and Jem. Aunt Alexandra emphasizes social status and family heritage, often being strict and traditional. In contrast, Calpurnia provides a nurturing and morally grounded influence, teaching the children about empathy and equality. Both women, however, deeply care for the children's upbringing and well-being.

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Compare and contrast Aunt Alexandra and Calpurnia in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Both Calpurnia and Aunt Alexandra are portrayed as strict women who do not hesitate to discipline Jem and Scout. Calpurnia chastises Scout several times at the beginning of the novel, and Aunt Alexandra is continually correcting Scout's behavior and personality. Calpurnia and Alexandra are also depicted as accomplished, independent women. Calpurnia is one of the few educated black people in Maycomb's community, and Alexandra participates in numerous town committees and organizations. Both women are also valued members of their communities and respected by their neighbors.

Despite their similarities, Calpurnia and Alexandra differ in various ways. Calpurnia is a black woman and is therefore considered a second-class citizen in Maycomb's segregated society. Calpurnia is also depicted as a more understanding, tolerant woman than Alexandra. In contrast, Aunt Alexandra enjoys her upper-class status in Maycomb's society and is depicted as a more austere, antagonistic woman. She also portrays her racist personality by criticizing Atticus for defending Tom Robinson.

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Compare and contrast Aunt Alexandra and Calpurnia in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Aunt Alexandra and Calpurnia, or Cal, are both strong-willed figures who play significant roles in the lives of the Finch children, Jem and Scout. Both are firm in their beliefs and want what's best for the children. From there, however, the differences between the two women are more compelling. Calpurnia, the Finch family's African American housekeeper, has acted as a surrogate mother to Jem and Scout for a considerable period of time and knows the family as well as anybody in Maycomb. Hers is a welcome presence for Atticus and his kids. Aunt Alexandra, previously a regular visitor to the Finch household, becomes a full time member of the household when she moves in with the express intent of imposing a more austere form of discipline on the children, especially on Scout, whom she views as insufficiently feminine.

From the beginning of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, the story's young narrator, Scout, is very explicit in her dislike of her aunt, contrasting Alexandra with her father by commenting that "I was sure that she was swapped at birth and that my grandparents had gotten the wrong child." Whereas Calpurnia is open-minded about people, choosing to judge on the basis of character rather than ethnicity, Alexandra is the exact opposite, condemning young Walter Cunningham because of his background and exhibiting serious reservations about her brother's decision to defend Tom Robinson, the disabled African American man accused of raping a white woman. And, as noted, Alexandra is adamant that Scout act more like a girl and less like a boy, including addressing the latter by her formal name, Jean Louise.

Calpurnia and Alexandra are similar only in their love for the Finch children, and are both strong, independent women. Beyond that, they are as different as night and day, with Calpurnia exhibiting the more admirable qualities.

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Compare and contrast Aunt Alexandra and Calpurnia in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Aunt Alexandra is Atticus Finch’s sister, while Calpurnia is the Finch’s African-American cook and housekeeper. These two characters both share similar qualities, but differ in many aspects. Calpurnia is not related to the Finchs like Alexandra is, and since she is black, she occupies a lower social status. Calpurnia is able to provide the children with valuable insight from an African American point of view, while Aunt Alexandra is concerned with conforming Scout into the stereotypical Maycomb female. Calpurnia sees eye-to-eye with Atticus when it comes to childrearing, and displays more sympathy for the children when they misbehave. In contrast, Alexandra often disagrees with the way Atticus is raising his children and shows less sympathy towards Scout because she disapproves of her “tomboyish” lifestyle. Calpurnia and Aunt Alexandra are both strong female figures who play the role of mother for Jem and Scout. Both characters rule with an “iron fist,” and make sure that the children do not get into trouble. They both have Jem and Scout’s best interest in mind, yet convey their feelings and beliefs differently.

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In To Kill a Mockingbird, how are Calpurnia and Aunt Alexandra similar and different?

Aunt Alexandra and Calpurnia are both strong female figures in To Kill a Mockingbird. So, they both play a mother role, more for Scout than for Jem. Aunt Alexandra is conservative and although she shows some compassion with her missionary circle, she lectures Scout on the prestige of her family's history and this goes hand in hand with preserving social (and racial) class distinctions. However, Aunt Alexandra does get upset upon hearing news of Tom's death. There is the opinion that Aunt Alexandra was more of a traditionalist than an outright elitist. That is to say that any residual racism she exhibits is a product of her loyalty to those social traditions. 

Calpurnia is much more open-minded than Alexandra and makes a larger impression on Scout both as a mother figure and as a guide to the society and culture of Maycomb. Calpurnia is the bridge between the white and black worlds of Maycomb. When she takes the kids to her church, this is the first time Scout considers that Calpurnia has a life outside of the Finch household. This is a moment where Scout really begins to become aware of other people's lives rather than thinking only of the role they play in her (Scout's) own life.

“That Calpurnia led a modest double life never dawned on me. The idea that she had a separate existence outside our household was a novel one, to say nothing of her having command of two languages” (67).

Calpurnia scolds Scout for making fun of Walter Cunningham at the beginning of the novel. This is the first example of Calpurnia teaching Scout to put herself in other people's shoes. This is a lesson that Atticus instills in the children as well.

Calpurnia, like Atticus, is a voice of reason and represents the social separation or double-consciousness of living in a white and a black world. Aunt Alexandra represents a traditionalist of the south who is reluctant, but not totally unwilling, to give up social traditions even if they are in the spirit of an historical evolution towards equality.

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Compare and contrast Aunt Alexandra's and Calpurnia's mothering in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Aunt Alexandra and Calpurnia are similar in some ways in their approach to childrearing, but different in others. Calpurnia is the Finch’s African American cook and housekeeper who cares for Jem and Scout throughout the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Calpurnia differs from Aunt Alexandra in many ways, chiefly beginning with the fact she is of a different race and social class. Calpurnia’s child rearing techniques seem more sympathetic towards the children in comparison to Alexandra’s. She is more forgiving toward Scout’s “tomboyish” ways, and is more understanding of the children’s struggles. Calpurnia seems more concerned about teaching the children life lessons, like how to treat people with respect at all times, when compared to Alexandra’s mothering approach. Her ability to understand the children and dismiss feminine social conventions might be in part due to the fact that she occupies a lower social class.

Aunt Alexandra comes from a higher social class than Calpurnia, and is the sister of Atticus Finch. Alexandra is tough on Scout because she views Scout’s lifestyle with contempt. Scout says, “When I said I couldn't do anything in a dress, she said I wasn't supposed to be doing things that required pants.” Alexandra is preoccupied with maintaining a prestigious family name. Her concerns for the children are from the perspective of a concerned relative who cares about the family name, which can come across as callous at times.

Both women are strict, in the sense that they intervene immediately when Jem and Scout misbehave. They are both positive role models who have the children’s best interests in mind. Both women are concerned with the children’s appearance, more so Alexandra than Calpurnia. Alexandra and Calpurnia both try to teach the children how to have character.

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