Study Guide

Calpurnia in Go Set a Watchman

By Harper Lee


The Help

Calpurnia is another character you will recognize from To Kill a Mockingbird. After Jem died, Calpurnia left, so we mainly see her in flashback where she still fills the "magical N****" role of mentoring Scout. She gives her some of the best advice in the book (example: "Don't you study about other folks' business till you take care of your own" [11.123]), and then she leaves to be forgotten and mistreated by the girl she basically raised.


In the 1950s timeline, Jean Louise visits Calpurnia after Atticus agrees to represent her great-grandson, Frank. Frank, a smart kid planning to attend the prestigious Tuskegee Institute, has hit a drunken man who wandered in front of his car. Echoes of Mockingbird here, in that the real crime is simply that Frank is black.

Jean Louise doesn't visit Calpurnia to support her. She visits her, during this difficult time of grief, in a self-serving way of looking for validation. She wants to see that Calpurnia still respects Atticus, the great white hope. But she doesn't. And why should she? (Yeah, we're still a little bitter about the whole thing.)

There is still a great divide between black and white, evidenced by Jean Louise's need to police Calpurnia's language, telling her to "talk [...] right" (12.194) before finally asking what she really came for:

"Did you hate us?" […] Finally, Calpurnia shook her head. (12.196, 12.198)

Jean Louise's behavior, perhaps unintentionally, illustrates her hypocrisy. She thinks black people deserve respect, but she's still willing to ignore their humanity when she needs something. Jean Louise admits she was "raised by a black and a white man" (13.111).

But while she is willing to forgive Atticus for his transgressions, she is just as willing to totally forget Calpurnia. Jean Louise, like most of 1950s Southern society, has an internalized disregard for women (despite being one herself) and black people, and Calpurnia commits the sin of being both.

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