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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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Why does Alexandra think Atticus should dismiss Calpurnia, and how does Atticus respond to the suggestion in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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The subtext behind the reason that Aunt Alexandra thinks Atticus should dismiss Calpurnia is that Scout is becoming too friendly with African-American people and wants to visit Calpurnia at her house. While Aunt Alexandra says that Scout is too old for Calpurnia, Alexandra's real reason for wanting to get rid of Calpurnia is that Alexandra thinks Scout is too close to African-Americans through Calpurnia. However, Atticus immediately rejects this idea and says that Calpurnia is "a faithful member of this family" and will leave her position only when she wants to. He also says that Calpurnia has been harder on Jem and Scout than a real mother would have been and that Calpurnia has not been indulgent towards the children. Atticus feels that Calpurnia has a good sense of how to bring up children and that Jem and Scout love her. 

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Alexandra primarily believes that since she has decided to come and live with Atticus and his family, Calpurnia is no longer essential to the household. Alexandra will provide the motherly touch that Jem and Scout need, she believes, eliminating this aspect of Calpurnia's responsibilities. Since Alexandra is a great cook, she will also replace Calpurnia in this regard. Alexandra also believes that Calpurnia has not done a sufficient job in turning Scout into a lady, and she tells Atticus that

"... it's all right to be soft-hearted, you're an easy man, but you have a daughter to think of. A daughter who's growing up.
     "... We don't need her now."

Atticus will hear none of it, however. He believes Calpurnia has done a great job of bringing up his children. Besides, Atticus considers Cal "a member of this family."

     "... Calpurnia's not leaving this house until she wants to. You may think otherwise, but I couldn't have got along without her all these years... Besides, sister, I don't want you working your head off... We still need Cal as much as we ever did.
     "Besides, I don't think the children've suffered one bit from her having brought them up. If anything, she's been harder on them in some ways than a mother would have been... she's never let them get away with anything...and another thing, the children love her."

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Aunt Alexandra has come to stay with the Finches because Atticus wants someone to stay with Scout and Jem during the trial. Aunt Alexandra, in her bossy way, immediately starts ordering everyone around exerting her power and ideas. She doesn’t think Calpurnia is needed to cook and take care of the household as long as she is there.  Aunt Alexandra wants to exert her authority especially with Scout who is not growing up as a typical southern belle.  Aunt Alexandra wants to turn her into a “girl”, something Atticus hasn’t been able to do as a single father who encourages independence in his children.

Atticus, in his wisdom, understands that Calpurnia’s presence in the children’s’ lives is important, and he refuses to let her go because he considers her family.  Calpurnia also...

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needs the income, something that didn’t cross Aunt Alexandra’s prejudiced mind. 

Luckily, Atticus wins the battle with his sister, and Calpurnia is allowed to stay and continue her influential presence with the children. 

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Why does Alexandra think Atticus should dismiss Calpurnia?

While it is not uncommon for Southern families to have a black maid, Aunt Alexandra apparently feels that Calpurnia exerts too much influence on her brother's children in areas that have nothing to do with her occupation.

One evening shortly after Aunt Alexandra's arrival, Scout asks her father what the word "rape" means. Atticus replies that it is "carnal knowledge of a female by force." This definition is one that little Scout probably does not understand, but it satisfies her. So she then asks her father why "comin' from church that day" Calpurnia told her to ask her father. When Atticus asks Scout to explain, she tells her father that they went to church with Calpurnia the Sunday that he was in Montgomery, and on the way home she asked Calpurnia about rape. Startled to hear that her niece and nephew went to a church with Calpurnia, Aunt Alexandra drops her embroidery into her lap and just stares at the children.

Then, because Scout does not understand her aunt's reaction, she innocently asks her father if she and Jem may join Calpurnia next Sunday. Alexandra interjects, "You may not." Scout disrespectfully tells her, "I didn't ask you!" Of course, Atticus makes Scout apologize, and Scout leaves the room. She overhears Alexandra tell Atticus:

"You've got to do something about her....You've let things go on too long, Atticus, too long."

It is then that Alexandra suggests that Calpurnia is no longer needed, but Atticus insists that she is a "faithful member" of their family. Clearly Alexandra does not agree as she seems to believe that Calpurnia has too much influence on the children, and she is not a suitable influence, at that.

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Why does Alexandra think Atticus should dismiss Calpurnia?

The reason she says to get rid of Calpurnia is that she isn't needed any longer. However, Alexandra suggests getting rid of Calpurnia after Scout back talks her (Alexandra), and after there is clearly a disagreement about who is in charge and which rules Scout is to obey, so one can assume there's a power struggle, and a conflict over order.


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