Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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What is Scout's relationship with Calpurnia like in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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Calpurnia is Scout’s surrogate mother, as Scout’s own mother died years before, when Scout was two. Referring to her mother, Scout writes that she “never felt her absence.” This means that Calpurnia is the only mother figure that Scout has ever known. Calpurnia raises Scout and her brother, Jem, and takes tremendous responsibility and pride in raising them. For example, Scout learns to read and write well before the other children in her grade because Calpurnia has taught her.

Calpurnia is a strict supervisor. Scout says,

In Calpurnia’s teaching, there was no sentimentality: I seldom pleased her and she seldom rewarded me.

Cal is also strict in the rules that Scout and Jem must heed, and Scout frequently thinks that Calpurnia will admonish her for something she contemplates doing (but she usually does it anyway).

Scout loves Calpurnia, although she sometimes wonders if Cal likes Jem better than she likes Scout. Moreover, it would seem that Scout and Calpurnia battle more than traditional mother-daughter pairs do, especially when the daughter is as young as Scout. For instance, Scout explains,

Jem and I found our father satisfactory… Calpurnia was something else again… She was always ordering me out of the kitchen, asking me why I couldn’t behave as well as Jem when she knew he was older, and calling me home when I wasn’t ready to come. Our battles were epic and one-sided. Calpurnia always won…

Moreover, Scout is sassy to Cal in a way that she is not sassy to the other adults in her life, including Atticus. One has to wonder whether Scout’s conduct is because she more time with Calpurnia than with any other adult or if it in some way reflects Scout’s understanding that Calpurnia has a different social status and that Calpurnia works for the Finches.

For instance, one day, she is exasperated with Calpurnia and “suggest[s] that Atticus lose no time in packing her off.” Atticus reminds her of how much Calpurnia does for the family. Most likely, Scout’s suggestion that Atticus fire Calpurnia was said in the heat of the moment and reflected her frustration at the time.

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Scout's relationship with Calpurnia is similar to that between a daughter and her mother. Scout has never known her biological mother, and this has created a large gap in her life which Calpurnia has been only too happy to fill. Calpurnia provides the kind of moral guidance and wisdom that one would expect a mother to provide, helping Scout navigate her way through those difficult formative years.

In addition, she also provides Scout with an insight into African American culture by taking her to church one Sunday morning. This is a side of life that few white children in Maycomb—or, indeed, white adults—ever get to see, and Scout is suitably fascinated by this privileged insight into a whole different culture.

Scout and Calpurnia have a very strong, loving bond which only gets stronger as the story progresses....

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This stands in stark contrast with the somewhat fraught relationships that Scout has with other female authority figures such as Aunt Alexandra, an old-fashioned Southern lady who wants Scout to grow up to be just like her. Unlike Calpurnia, Alexandra doesn't listen to Scout; she simply lays down the law and expects her to obey. She's more of a stern teacher than the loving substitute mother into which Calpurnia has developed with considerable ease.

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In many ways Calpurnia is a mother-figure to Scout. Cal, as Scout refers to her, is also a teacher, nanny, housekeeper, and friend to everyone in the family.

Because Atticus is a widower, he relies on Calpurnia to take care of the children when he is gone, much like his wife would have done. She prepares their meals, punishes them when they are out of line, and imparts life lessons and advice. She is strict with both children, but she loves them and they love her.

They have a good relationship because it is based on love and trust. Scout has never known her life without Calpurnia. Scout shares her most intimate moments with her, for better or worse. As a result, you could say they have a strong friendship.

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What kind of a relationship do Scout and Calpurnia have, and what lessons does Calpurnia teach Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird?

Scout is not happy with Calpurnia in the early chapters.

Our battles were epic and one-sided. Calpurnia always won, mainly because Atticus always took her side... and I had felt her tyrannical presence as long as I could remember.  (Chapter 1)

Scout was particularly angry with Cal after she was punished for being rude to Walter Cunningham Jr. when he visited for dinner.

I told Calpurnia to just wait, I'd fix her; one of these days when she wasn't looking I'd go off and drown myself in Barker's Eddy.  (Chapter 3)

But Scout comes to see the good side of Cal, and she is so impressed with the housekeeper after their visit to First Purchase Church that Scout wants to visit Cal at her own home in the Quarters. Cal serves as a surrogate mother to Scout and Jem, and Atticus is quick to point out to Alexandra that Cal has

"... never let them get away with anything, she's never indulged them... and another thing, the children love her."  (Chapter 14)

Calpurnia has previously taught Scout to write cursive, and she does her best to teach Scout about manners, how to treat guests, and how to serve refreshments to a room full of ladies. Cal keeps an eye on the children when Atticus is absent, setting strict "summertime boundaries" in the neighborhood, and she impresses the kids with her "modest double life" and "command of two languages."

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