In “To Kill a Mockingbird”, written by Harper Lee in 1960, racial discrimination is shown as a significant theme, as a result of the time and place setting of the novel- where prejudice towards the Negro community was commonly demonstrated. A character who plays a major part in this issue is Calpurnia, the Negro maid of the Finch family household. “Voice” and “place” are two literary features used to explore Calpurnia’s role in emphasising racial discrimination.
During the novel, “voice” is a literary feature that is regularly used by Calpurnia as she is at a particular advantage when assisting around the Finch household, despite being a Negro woman. The audience has clear insight of Calpurnia’s “voice” being used within the first few pages of the novel. Scout states that her and Calpurnia’s battles were “epic and one sided”, and continues to explain, “Calpurnia always won, mainly because Atticus always took her side.” (pg 6) This indicates that Calpurnia is favoured by Atticus during the arguments between her and Scout and that she is under his protection. Regardless of being a Negro housemaid, Calpurnia’s “voice” is clearly heard within the Finch household and throughout “To Kill a Mockingbird” as her arguments against Scout are considered and respected by Atticus Finch.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” also emphasises Calpurnia’s “voice” by exhibiting her discipline over Jem and Scout. When Calpurnia gives commands to the children, Jem and Scout never disobey her and take the initiative to perform these orders. Through her stringent nature over the children, Calpurnia teaches Scout a valuable lesson in discrimination. Subsequent to Scout expressing her surprise about Walter Cunningham’s way of eating, she is scolded by Calpurnia who says, “Don’t matter who they are, anybody sets foot in this house’s yo’ comp’ny […] Yo’ folks might be better’n the Cunninghams but it don’t count for nothin’ the way you’re disgracin’ em’.” (pg 27)
The reader can infer through this display, that as a coloured woman in Maycomb, Calpurnia has experienced being treated as inferior due to her ethnicity, having strong opinions on discrimination. She wants Scout to treat others equally and with respect, despite Walter being of low status and wealth. Calpurnia places Scout in the kitchen to eat due to her intolerance of Scout’s behaviour, aware of the fact that it does not make Scout superior than Walter. The novel certainly conveys Calpurnia’s “voice” by expressing her discipline over Scout and views on discrimination.
“Place” is another literary feature in “To Kill a Mockingbird”, used to manifest Calpurnia’s status within the domestic areas of the Finch Household. When she carries out her duties as a housemaid, Calpurnia is never perceived by Jem and Scout for the colour of her skin, however, more deemed as equal and a ‘mother figure’ who demonstrates tough love towards the children. On the contrary, when Aunt Alexandra chooses to stay at the Finch Household, she shows a contemptuous attitude towards Calpurnia. Alexandra is surprised at Atticus speaking freely of how “Braxton Underwood despises Negroes” in front of Calpurnia and says, “Don’t talk like that in front of them. […] It encourages them.
You know how they talk among themselves” (pg 173), referring to the Negro community of Maycomb. Alexandra also wanted Atticus to depose of Calpurnia’s job, stating, “We don’t need her now.” (pg 150) Calpurnia is defended in both situations by Atticus, who believes that Calpurnia’s service around the house was absolutely necessary. Chapter 14 of the novel explicitly states that Calpurnia’s “place” is within the Finch Household as a faithful member until she chooses to leave, in spite of people who say otherwise because of her skin colour.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” uses the literary feature of “place” in depicting the contrasts in Calpurnia’s actions within her Church and at the Finch Household. The novel introduces the idea of Calpurnia leading a “modest double-life” and “having command of two languages” (pg 138), on the account of Calpurnia serving as a bridge that connects to both the Negro and Caucasian worlds of Maycomb. Calpurnia’s command of two languages is demonstrated by the way she speaks while in her Church, in comparison to the Finch Household.
Calpurnia is at a particular privilege over other Negroes, as seen through Atticus saying “she had more education than most coloured folk” (pg 27). She refuses to talk in a more formal manner when she is in the presence of Church goers, convinced that it would make her seem boastful. “Place” is an effective feature used to gain more insight to Calpurnia’s portrayal and how she must behave differently when in front of both ethnicities of Maycomb.
The novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” uses the literary features of “voice” and “place” to present Calpurnia’s role in accentuating the racial situation within Maycomb. Through Calpurnia’s “voice”, the reader has an understanding of her respected position as a “mother figure” and faithful member of the Finch Family. In spite of Calpurnia being of high consideration within the household, it is clear that Calpurnia has experienced discrimination due to her skin colour.
She is looked down on and regarded dismissively when Alexandra enters the household and not given the chance to speak formally when inside her church, as shown through the feature of “place”. Calpurnia’s role in “To Kill a Mockingbird” is successful in highlighting racial discrimination within society through her actions and experiences.