Friday, August 20, 2010

Calpurnia from To Kill a Mockingbird

Atticus trusts Calpurnia to care for his home, his nutrition, and his most important possession: his children. He believes she has the right moral and spiritual “lights” by which to guide them, and he refuses to heed Alexandra’s nagging to let her go. Atticus values Calpurnia as a person and an employee.

Calpurnia is more than a domestic servant and nanny, however. She and Helen Robinson are icons for the plight of black women in a segregated society, women who left their own homes and children from sun-up to sundown in order to care for the homes and children of their white employers. On the night that snow falls in Maycomb, Atticus invites Calpurnia to spend the night; on nights when Atticus must attend State legislative sessions, Calpurnia works, without invitation, only expectation, a full 24 hours.

No doubt Calpurnia is proud to be Mr. Finch’s employee. After all, he is a most respected citizen and an attorney. In addition, Atticus values Calpurnia for her character. This, too, must make her proud for she has earned his trust and regard.

But it is Calpurnia’s character that grants her standing among those who display courage. Calpurnia has the courage of her convictions as she instructs and disciplines Jem and Scout, especially Scout. She stands up to Lula, a fellow church member who condemns Calpurnia for taking white children to Reverend Sykes’ service.

Calpurnia also stands up for education when she teaches her son, Zeebo, to read. He can then read the hymnal and lead the congregation, teaching them the words to sing and waiting for their reply in song. Surely her desire to insure her son’s knowledge is a testament to Calpurnia’s faith in possibilities—if not for her, but for her son.

Above all, Calpurnia stands for moral principles, proving that such strength of character resides in the heart and mind of those forced to live humbly. She becomes the paradigm for the best qualities in Maycomb’s oppressed citizenry and reason enough for an end to segregation.

Do you know of others whose courage includes living by timeless moral precepts?