Anyone who has read Haper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird would probably agree on the fact that Calpurnia is a fascinating and likeable character. She is the mother Jem and Scout had lost and make a priority of their education. But beyond that, she is also a black, African American housekeeper, and that’s why she embodies some very important values in the novel : Respect, dignity, strenght of character and tolerance are the main ones.
In her novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Haper Lee uses the character of Calpurnia to show how social recognition differences between black and white communities are influencing the behavior of thoose who attend both of them, depending on their background and community affiliation.
Indeed, Calpurnia is a meaningful character because she represents the link between African American’s community with it’s complex social status, and the white people. But, she also has a very special role at the Finch’s house, and the fact she’s not a random black maid gives to this character the power to express many other subtilities of this time and place’s society with a more global view.
Haper Lee depicts in her book the american south’s society of the early 1930s, using the fictive place of Maycomb County. It’s a small southern town where everybody knows each other, most families are settled here since several generations and each one’s reputation is already made and known since a long time. Even if slavery is over for about 70 years at the time, civil war memories and segregational laws still divide the black and white communities. Of course, it influences the relationships between black and white inhabitants because they have to adopt a different behavior depending on who they are with. That’s also one of the things the author wants to show, and Calpurnia is a great example of this code switching, the most obvious extract of the novel to show her ability to change her vocabulary and behavior is when she brings Jem and Scout to her black church, and speaks in a broken English with the others black men and women. They would understand her if she were speaking a white english, but this is a way to show her affiliation and respect for her community. She is a very humble woman, and even if she has an important place at the Finch’s, more than any other black man or woman in a white house, she won’t ever be contemptuous to black people.
Indeed, Calpurnia belongs to the African American community, but as she explains it to Jem and Scout, she is one of the rare ones to have received an education. We can see througt the novel that she has a gramatically very good and fluent english while the biggest part of the community doesn’t. She knows well about social codes and good manners and she is aware of their indispensability for the kids to fit in their times’ society. It makes her different from the other black men and women. She’s respected and appreciated among her own community, because she is clever and also makes her best to get this respect. Harper Lee also shows it when Calpurnia brought the kids with her to her church: She bathed them, brushed their hair and she made sure they looked good and were polite and quiet because at this special moment, they were reflective of her work at the Finch’s.
Calpurnia is a hardworker and never complains even when Atticus’ sister Alexandra is beeing unpleasant to her. Aunt Alexandra is different from Atticus and the kids in the way she treats Calpurnia more like a freeloader dog than like a proper human beeing. When Calpurnia and the kids meet her at her arrival at the Finch’s, she ordered to Calpurnia to bring her bag to her bedroom, without even a greeting or a polite word. It’s at this special moment Calpurnia shows how dignified she is by fulfilling her demand without flinching. Alexandra is offended by Atticus letting her take the kids to a black church and even wants her to leave the house definitively because [They] don’t need her now. In fact, even if Calpurnia is doing her best, her work isn’t recognized among the white community. Most of the white people in Maycomb and elsewhere were still considering black people as inferior to them, as their work and words, and that was according to their time’s standarts. Alexandra has no idea of how assiduous and involved Calpurnia is because beyond her maid work wich is cleaning the house, cooking and taking care of the laundry, she does more than looking after Jem and Scout. She really care for them, teach them good manners and correct them firmly but nicely, as a loving mother would do. We have an example of this in the third chapter of the novel, when the young Cunningham is invited for a meal at the Finch’s and Scout is beeing rude and embarrasses their guest. Calpurnia is caring for Scout, and wants her to become a Good person. She taught respect and tolerance to Scout when she qualifies Walter as Just a Cunnigham meaning his familly is nothing but poor, and don’t deserve the same politeness and respect than other Maycomb famillies.
Moreover, Atticus is very attached to Calpurnia, he trusts her in everything and strongly believe in her good influence on his children. He never contests her authority and considers her as a member of the familly. He is aware of the mother figure she is, and has nothing to reproach her in her work. Atticus is very important in the novel because his own tolerance and respect for black community is essencial to let the character of Calpurnia express her whole personnality and values. The Finch’s are not the only familly in Maycomb to employ a black maid, but Sophy, who works for Mrs. Grace Merriweather, is considered by her employer as a sulky darky. Moreover, Calpurnia receives a good salary from Atticus, while Sophy gets her dollar and a quarter every week wich is ridiculous in comparison with the amount of work black maid had to achieve at that time. Also, thanks to Atticus’ quiet presence, Harper Lee can fully use Calpurnia to show how unjustified, deeply-rooted, and also cruel racism is, and how it can be beneficial to be tolerant and respectful to each and every human beeing. Atticus even defends her againt his sister, who has a narrow-minded view of how Scout should dress and behave to be a lady and is shocked by the education given to the kids. But Calpurnia, even if she knows Atticus appreciate her and will be on her side, never takes the advantage of it to be disrespectful to Alexandra, or not to do her work properly.
In fact, the Character of Calpurnia is meaningful in it’s relashionships with others. She shows how it’s possible to be respected in her own community, by hardwork and consideration, but it expresses as well that skin color doesn’t really matter, if you get an education, you can be wise and aware of society’s reality. Tolerance and respect are the main things she wants the children to learn, but she considers good manners also very important, because she knows the kids need to be integrated in their society to make things change and be « good persons », that shows how ahead of her time Calpurnia is. But Harper Lee doesn’t write about an ideal world, she only puts a sparkle of hope in this time’s society, while inequality and racism were still opressing black community.