Calpurnia’s To Kill A Mockingbird Character: An Analysis Of The Novel’s Impact And Messages

In recent times, racism and other issues concerning race are receiving more media coverage and public attention, which has caused the sales of books and movies related to these events and topics to increase. There are also specific characters in these essential books that stand out as the main point of the story’s premise as they give more highlights to the themes and underlying messages. One of these important characters is Calpurnia’s To Kill A Mockingbird role as the readers’ window into the world of the black community in the book’s fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama.

Conversations surrounding these topics are more relevant than ever with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the events leading up to it. So, it would be the best time to reread one of the most important novels written in recent times that touch on these subjects.

What does Calpurnia’s To Kill A Mockingbird character stand for? What are the novel’s messages, and how can we use them to learn about our humanity in today’s world? Let’s revisit the novel’s plot and characters to find answers to some of these questions. 

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To Kill A Mockingbird: Legacy

Harper Lee has written only one novel for the longest time until she released Go Set a Watchman in 2015, the sequel to 1960s To Kill A Mockingbird. Many American students have read the book as part of their curriculum. It is an essential read because its approach to racism has made it one of the top 10 banned books in many schools in The USA, along with The Color Purple, another book that empowers black people.

Despite the book’s challenges, it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 until it became the acclaimed 1962 Robert Mulligan-directed film adaptation. The film won three out of eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Actor for Gregory Peck for his portrayal of Atticus Finch. In 2019, BBC News included the novel in its 100 Most Influential Novels list.

To Kill A Mockingbird: Summary

During the Great Depression in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, a young girl named Jean Louise Finch, or “Scout,” narrates the events that happened in her town when she was six until she turned nine years old. Atticus Finch, her widowed father, raises her and her brother, Jeremy Atticus or “Jem”. Atticus is a well-known lawyer who upholds the values of his job and instills his morals in his children. The title To Kill A Mockingbird is a reference to his reminder to Scout and Jem that killing a mockingbird is a sin, as these birds are innocent and all they do is sing their hearts out.

Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) and Tom Robinson (Brock Peters) in the 1962 film, To Kill A Mockingbird.
Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch with Brock Peters’ Tom Robinson in the 1962 film adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird. Source:

Maycomb’s mostly serene lifestyle experienced a turn of events when a black man named Tom Robinson was wrongly accused of raping a white Maycomb resident, Mayella Ewell. Despite the citizens’ backlash and racist idelologies, Atticus agrees to defend him in court. Even if Atticus’ defense was strong proving another resident named Bob Ewell was the one who attacked Mayella, Tom was still convicted. He was eventually killed while trying to escape custody. The book uses these events to compare his death to the unjust killing of mockingbirds.

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To Kill A Mockingbird: Analysis

To Kill A Mockingbird’s author, Harper Lee.
A portrait of To Kill A Mockingbird’s author, Harper Lee. Source:

Harper Lee’s observations of her surroundings, family, along with some related events that occurred near her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, when she was ten, inspired the plot and characters of To Kill A Mockingbird. The author said that she based Atticus Finch on her father, Amasa Coleman Lee, a kind and diligent lawyer and newspaper editor. The events of the book were inspired in part by his 1919 defense of two African-American men who were wrongly convicted for murder.

To Kill a Mockingbird’s overall message would strongly resonate in today’s society, where racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and more are still rampant and taking many lives every day. Its themes reflect many marginalized people’s rights to live without fear because every human being deserves to be treated with decency regardless of their race, ethnicity, skin color, gender, and sexual orientation. 

Many books have a huge impact on people, especially if they read them during their formative years, but there is nothing quite like To Kill A Mockingbird. Many people credit the book for teaching them important life lessons about being brave in the face of injustice, inequality, racism, hatred, and oppression. It also teaches its readers that there’s more to every person than what meets our eyes. If only the world would listen more to these stories, then we wouldn’t be in this mess we are in now.

To Kill A Mockingbird: Calpurnia’s Character Analysis

Calpurnia, with Scout and Jem in the 1962 film adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird.
Estelle Evans’ Calpurnia with Scout and Jem. Source:

Calpurnia’s To Kill A Mockingbird’s role as the Finch’s cook and mother figure to Scout deserves more discussion as she is as important as Tom Robinson’s role in the events of the book. While she isn’t one of the main characters in the story, she represents how black housekeepers shaped many American families. So, what does Scout learn about Calpurnia?

While Scout doesn’t think much about Calpurnia’s personal life, we learn that she seldom sees her children while caring for the Finches. Scout also goes to church with her, where Scout learns about the racial segregation happening in Maycomb and some of Calpurnia’s background and story. But what new things does Scout learn here about how the black people live?

Scout became aware that the world she occupies is not all about fun, games, and playing sports for a very young girl. Her coming-of-age tale and realizations parallel the seemingly trivial opening of the novel of how her brother broke his arm and that it could cause his inability to play football again. This event is a huge contrast to what the black people worry about. They worry about their safety all the time as the color of their skin is seen by racists as an invitation to abuse and belittle them. They worry about their lives.

The real reason To Kill A Mockingbird became so famous

To Kill A Mockingbird Is To Kill Innocent Beings

Calpurnia’s To Kill A Mockingbird character may have been depicted as the stereotype of the contented enslaved person as they seem unscathed by the events of the book. But just like all the other black characters in the story, she is resilient and has survived living in a cruel world where many consider her existence as lesser. While she didn’t get as much in-depth character analysis in the book, she was a positive, motivating force in Scout’s life who taught her valuable empathy lessons.

Many current readers of To Kill A Mockingbird would consider her as a one-dimensional character, especially as she is mostly silent about the rampant racism in Maycomb. While the lack of depth of Calpurnia’s To Kill A Mockingbird character may be true to some extent, she represents the multifaceted black experience in many ways. It’s possible that Harper Lee intended her to be this way to show that she knows the dangers of speaking up as a black person, and her silence on the issues other black people face shows what she’s been through before the events of the book.

To Kill a Mockingbird is considered a masterpiece by many. It may be an imperfect book with imperfect characters, but looking for a perfect book in a world full of imperfections doesn’t seem right. We will never know what Lee’s intentions are in presenting what could have been a major character in the book in a simplified way. But at least we’re talking about it in a time when it’s important to talk about such issues, and that, to me, is where the power of the book lies.

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Leonard hails from the Philippines and works as a freelancer, author, poet, and visual artist. He discovered his passion for writing and painting at an early age, leading him to pursue a degree in Mass Communications. He worked at a few places after college before landing what he thought was a "life-changing" writing career. He was also the lead singer and songwriter for a band. His career as an English teacher, poet, and visual artist took him to Hanoi, Vietnam, in 2018. You can see more of his work on Instagram at @anumalei.