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Racism in Maycomb
Harper Lee's novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, focuses on the development of a brother and
sister in the “tired old town (Lee 3)” of Maycomb, Alabama, in the 1930’s. Maycomb is a classic
southern town full of gossip, tradition, and racism, and it seems to be strange place to stage a
drama which promotes equal treatment and non prejudice. However, the narrator’s naive outlook
on the town gives the reader a lot of viewpoints on civil rights. The traditional Southern racism
of Maycomb is looked at through the eyes of the young narrator, Scout Finch. Scout’s innocent
perspective compels her to ask questions about why whites treat blacks the way they do. These
questions are very important in Scout’s maturation. Scout must come to terms with the racism of
her town and how it affects the people in her life; she must find her own position and what role
she will play in the racial scene of her town. A number of people influence Scout, and the two
major role models in her life, her Aunt Alexandria and her father Atticus, pull Scout in two
different directions. Through their dealings with Calpurnia it is obvious to Scout what path
Atticus and Aunt Alexandria want Scout to follow.
Aunt Alexandra is brought into the Finch household to teach and act as a female role
model for Scout. In addition to showing Scout how to be a lady, she shows Scout Calpurnia’s
inferior position. Aunt Alexandra shows Scout Calpurnia’s inferior position. For Aunt
Alexandra, Calpurnia will not do as a role model for Scout because Calpurnia is black. Aunt
Alexandra from the beginning shows Scout who posses the power. “Put my bag in the front
bedroom, Calpurnia (Lee 127),” was the first thing Aunt Alexandra said to Cal. The first time
Aunt Alexandra appears in the novel, the lack of respect for Calpurnia is seen. Aunt Alexandra
does not say “please” or “thank you,” just a simple command telling Cal what to do. Cal has
symbolized strength and authority throughout Scout’s childhood, by acting as a mother figure in
the Finch household. Scout has never seen Cal in such an inferior position, and Scout doesn’t
know what to think about Cal’s new role.
Calpurnia has secured a respected place in the Finch family through years of dedicated
service and through the love she has shown the Finch children; Cal has acted as if Jem and Scout
wee her own children. Aunt Alexandra senses the family's closeness to Cal, and she fears the
bond the family has with Cal. Aunt Alexandra thinks that any relationship with a black person
that goes further than employer and employee causes scandal in Maycomb, and shortly after her
arrival, Aunt Alexandra gives Atticus advice on what to do with Calpurnia. “And don't try and
get around it. You've got to face it sooner or later and it might as well be tonight. We don't need
her now (Lee 157).”
Aunt Alexandra obviously wants Cal out of the family because Alexandra sees the respect
and love that Scout feels towards Cal and fears Scout will learn to love what she considers
“trash.” Aunt Alexandra’s label of “trashy” does not only classify blacks but any group or person
that Aunt Alexandra considers to be a lower class. Alexandra regards herself and the rest of the
Finches as the classy people of Maycomb, and she tries to make Scout understand this idea.
Alexandra attempts to teach Scout how to be a Finch “lady,” and if Scout wants to be Finch
“lady,” she can't care for and love people who are not Alexandra's “kind of folks (Lee 224).”
The force pulling Scout in the opposite direction is her father, Atticus. Atticus through
both his actions and his words contradicts everything that Alexandra stands for. Atticus shows
Scout how to act without forcing his views on her, as Aunt Alexandra does. Atticus leads by
example, showing the highest respect for everyone in Maycomb, not distinguishing by color or
class. His serious defense for Tom Robinson proves his good ideals; Atticus fights a hopeless
battle against the racism in the town. Atticus not only shows his non prejudice ways through the
trial of Tom Robinson, but he also shows beliefs through his everyday dealings with Calpurnia.
Atticus shows his loyalty to Cal in this discussion with Alexandra.
“Alexandra, 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. She's a
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Literature, Fiction, Film, To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, Calpurnia, Atticus, Boy Scouting, Go Set a Watchman, Atticus Finch
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