Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

Start Free Trial

Why did Calpurnia fuss over the children before taking them to the First Purchase Church?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Going to church in the black community is a time for everyone to present his/her best self.  It is an important social affair where women wear hats, and people wear their finest clothes.  The night before church, Calpurnia gives Scout and Jem a bath, scrubbing them to make sure they are clean. She sets out their Sunday clothes and makes sure they are ready to go with her on time. The children’s cleanliness and the way they are dressed is a reflection on Calpurnia’s ability to take care of the children of her employer. Dressing up for church is also a sign of respect that Calpurnia wants to make sure the children show. She knows that this will be a new experience for the children and Calpurnia wants to make sure they are respectful and presentable to the congregation. Calpurnia may also fear some backlash from the congregation, like she does when Lulu says to Calpurnia that “You ain’t got no business bringin’ white chillun here—they got their church, we got our’n."  Scout and Jem’s reception at the church is a little cold, and, at first, it is questioned by the congregation until Reverend Sykes and Zeebo welcome them to the service.  It is ironic that the black church in Maycomb is so welcoming because a white church in Maycomb would never embrace black children attending their services.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In my opinion, Calpurnia wants the kids to look nice before she brings them to her church because she thinks a couple of things.

First I think she thinks that the way they look will reflect on her.  She thinks that if they look bad it will seem that she does not take care of them well.

Second, I think that she does not want them to show up at her church looking bad because it will make it look like they, as white kids, do not respect the black church enough to dress up.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Another possible reason Calpurnia fusses over the children is that, in Atticus's absence, both Jem and Scout represent the face of the Finch family. The First Purchase Church is also geared towards an African American congregation and is not the usual place of worship for the Finches. So, Calpurnia wants the children to make a good impression; in her eyes, looking one's best in church is respectful conduct towards God and the congregation.

With Tom Robinson's trial in the community consciousness, Calpurnia may have also wanted to make as few waves as possible upon the children's entrance into church. Despite her efforts, however, she is accosted by Lula, a member of her congregation. Lula is upset that Calpurnia has brought Jem and Scout to Sunday service. She contemptuously questions Calpurnia's wisdom, but the rest of the congregation are supportive of Calpurnia. Zeebo particularly makes an effort to welcome Scout and Jem, assuring them that Lula is just "a troublemaker from way back, got fancy ideas an’ haughty ways..."

Most of the congregation are appreciative of Atticus's effort to represent Tom Robinson; however, members like Lula are suspicious of Atticus's intentions. In Lula's mind, Calpurnia still works for a white man. 

Because of the Jim Crow laws, some African Americans in Maycomb have little hope that Tom Robinson will get a fair trial. For her part, Calpurnia has placed her trust in Atticus; she is familiar with his beliefs and knows that he is a good man. Her decision in taking Scout and Jem to church demonstrates her ability to trust good people, regardless of their skin color.

So, Calpurnia has a few reasons to fuss over the children. She wants Scout and Jem to look presentable; to Calpurnia, it is a mark of respect to dress well for Sunday worship. She also wants her congregation to know that she works hard and is proud of performing her duties well. Last, but not least, her entrance with her well-dressed charges in tow is also a statement: Calpurnia is proud to be associated with the Finch family.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Chapter 12, Atticus has to travel to Birmingham for an emergency legislature session. Calpurnia is left to take care of Jem and Scout and wonders what she is going to do with them on Sunday. After Scout mentions that Atticus left them money for the church's collection plate, Cal narrows her eyes because she remembers the last time Scout and Jem went to church without Atticus. Scout recalls the time when they tied up Eunice Ann Simpson and left her downstairs near the furnace. The entire congregation could hear Eunice banging against the radiator pipes which caused quite the disruption during the service. Calpurnia suggests they come to her church on Sunday, and the children are excited to visit First Purchase M.E. On Saturday night, Scout mentions that Cal roughly bathes her, and makes her soap all over twice! She even "invades Jem's privacy" to make sure he is taking a bath. On Sunday morning, Calpurnia puts extra starch in Scout's dress and makes sure her shoes are so shiny that Cal can see her face in them. Jem mentions that it is like they are going to Mardi Gras, and Cal says, "I don't want anybody sayin' I don't look after my children." (Lee 157) Calpurnia clearly takes pride in her job and wants the children to look respectable in front of her community members. She doesn't want her neighbors thinking she is not a hard worker.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial