The Other Finch Family: Atticus, Calpurnia, Zeebo, and Black Women’s Agency in To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman

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"You aren't really a nigger-lover, then, are you?"
"I certainly am. I do my best to love everybody. . ."
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

A black woman's body was never hers alone
Fannie Lou Hamer

In Stamped from Beginning, Ibram X. Kendi observes that the black characters in Harper Lee's 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird "come across as spectators, waiting and hoping and singing for a White savior, and thankful for the moral heroism of lawyer Atticus Finch." There had, he continues, "been no more popular racist relic of the enslavement period than the notion that Black people must rely on Whites to bring them their freedom."1 Just as the novel's black characters are depicted as servants to whites as maids, housekeepers, field hands, and trash collectors they seem to function in the novel as servants to a story of white heroism and moral growth.2 At best they are only partially sketched: Calpurnia working mother, grandmother, Finch family housekeeper, pillar of Maycomb's black community, and arguably the most prominent African American character in the text has no surname, neither in Mockingbird, nor in the subsequently published Go Set a Watchman; nor, it seems, does she have a husband, a partner, or a father to her children.3 Offering what may be a first in Harper Lee criticism a reading focused on a black character this essay situates Calpurnia within her textual and historical context to suggest answers to longstanding, but little reflected on, concerns about her family heritage and the paternity of her son Zeebo. In so doing, it argues that Mockingbird offers a more sophisticated account of black women's social and political agency in the periods in which the novel was set, written, and largely read, than has generally been acknowledged. Indeed, Lee's novel recreates for the reader the experience of social relationships in small southern towns, showing us what white readers like the white citizens of such towns, and of the nation of which they are a part must ignore in the interests of maintaining certain dominant racial understandings.4 That the racially-driven tensions underpinning these relationships are more prominently displayed in Watchman than Mockingbird means that reading the first-published novel along with, and through, the first-written one might offer attentive and historically informed readers a more complex understanding of the issues of race, sex, and political agency faced by the black characters in Lee's work; and, indeed, by African Americans in the world beyond it.

I begin by addressing two issues of methodological concern. First, the relationship between the written world of the text and the unwritten world in which it is produced: that which permits the critic to employ the novel's historical context as a hermeneutical lens through which to view the text without reducing literature to history or sociology.5 Second, the relationship between Lee's novels, and how each might or might not be used to illuminate and/or support claims about the other. Building on Jennifer Murray's suggestion that by "interrogating the 'unsaids' of the novel's discourses ... we might best discover whether the mockingbird really does have anything to tell us about history, about otherness about ourselves," I then show how the dominant readings of Calpurnia, in both Mockingbird and Watchman, overlook aspects of her life that, when placed in their proper historical context, reveal much more about her existence than has hitherto been suggested.6 These details, I argue, may serve to mitigate the white savior narrative by situating Calpurnia as an actor in her own drama.

History, Palimpsest, and Method

While literary texts cannot simply be reduced to the historical, readers inevitably bring historical knowledge to their readings. When, for example, Scout's school mate, Cecil Jacobs, gives his in-class presentation on Hitler's treatment of the Jews, readers with a basic grasp of twentieth-century history will be aware that he is alluding to the rise of the Nazi Party in 1930s Germany. The more knowledgeable might recognize that the timing of Cecil's account late September or early to mid-October 1935 suggests that his presentation on "Current Events," concerns the passing of the Nuremburg Laws.7 Others might further note that the Nuremburg Laws were themselves modeled on American laws predicated upon the pseudo-science of eugenics aimed at achieving racial purity. Such historical attentiveness highlights, and makes more resonant, the novel's theme of white hypocrisy, depicting whites as decrying oppression of a religious minority abroad, while engaged in the oppression of a racial minority at home.8 The value of such historical contextualization is further suggested by the detailed knowledge of American legal history that Lee displays in her fiction. Atticus Finch's otherwise incomprehensible optimism about Tom Robinson's chances of a successful appeal is, for example, explained by the Supreme Court's ruling on April 1, 1935, in the case of Norris v. State of Alabama which overturned the convictions of two of the Scottsboro Boys because of the systematic exclusion of African Americans from their jury.9 Indeed, Lee's eye for detail and her reliance upon historical context is further suggested by the changing degrees of confidence with which Atticus expresses his belief in the possible success of an appeal. In December 1934, when the Petition of Writ for Certiorari asking the Supreme Court to consider the case had just been issued, Atticus tells his brother, "I think we'll have a reasonable chance on appeal though" (116, emphasis added); whereas, in late September or October of 1935, following the favorable April decision, he tells Scout that "We've got a good chance" (293, emphasis added).10

The second methodological concern is how to conceive of the relationship between Go Set a Watchman, written before To Kill a Mockingbird but not published until 2015, and Mockingbird itself. The general consensus is that Watchman is something of a first draft of Mockingbird. The novels share a number of similarly named characters and a setting: Maycomb, Alabama. Both are concerned with issues of racial injustice, and both incorporate or make reference to a trial of a black man accused of raping a white woman. They even include several nearly identical passages of text.11 While some readers might simply conflate the texts; others might choose to see them as separate entities to be considered only on their own terms. Although there is obviously no definitive way to think about this relationship, James Kelley suggests a productive, but not prescriptive, solution. "A strictly chronological approach," he writes, "might have less to offer today's reader than a spatial approach, an approach that seeks to position Go Set a Watchman not as having been written after or as we now know to have been the case before To Kill a Mockingbird but rather as lying underneath or behind the text of that bestselling novel."12 Kelley's suggestion of metaphorical palimpsest is an ingenious one, permitting the critic to make productive connections, references, and/or juxtapositions between the two texts without having to commit to some essentialist device such as authorial intent to "prove" their relevance or relationship. The validity of such readings is secured by their plausibility rather than by a commitment to a critical or ideological framework that the reader might reject.13 Reading Mockingbird's Calpurnia through the prism of history and her depiction in Watchman suggests a hitherto unexamined aspect of Lee's work that challenges those who would dismiss the agency of her black characters, while simultaneously drawing attention to other forms of oppression to which these characters, and their unwritten world counterparts, were or are subject.

The role most often assigned to Calpurnia by readers and critics of To Kill a Mockingbird is that of "surrogate mother" to Jem and Scout, with their relationship understood as one of mutual love and affection.14 That this is a reading driven by white nostalgia is suggested by the remarks of Boaty Boatwright, casting agent for the 1962 movie adaptation of the novel: "I had a woman who worked in our house ... [who] reminded me a great deal of Calpurnia, the warmth, the love, the understanding."15 Boatwright's casual use of the possessive ("I had a woman") suggests that this is a profoundly white conception of Calpurnia's relationship to the Finches. Marianne Moates's account of Truman Capote's childhood in Lee's hometown reproduces this nostalgia: "Most everybody in town had a colored woman ... to cook and wash ... She was a highly prized member of the family, and no one would have dared to try to hire her away."16 The suggestion that family members could be hired away exposes what white understanding willfully ignores: that this was an economic not familial relationship. That the idealization of this relationship one critic declares the family "a happy one, one which welcomes as one of its members a black woman"17 is a product of white blindness, deliberate or otherwise, is suggested by Atticus's problematic declaration of Calpurnia's family status:

Atticus's voice was even: "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 faithful member of this family and you'll simply have to accept things the way they are. Besides, sister, I don't want you working your head off for us - you've no reason to do that. We still need Cal as much as we ever did" (182-183).

Offered in response to Alexandra's puzzling suggestion that Calpurnia be fired a puzzle to which this essay will return the comment undoes itself: Calpurnia's actual relationship to the family is indicated by the clear implication that while it is unacceptable for Alexandra to "work her head off," it is a condition of Calpurnia's employment.

Even though African Americans recognized that domestic servants were not family members Alice Childress deftly made the point in her 1956 novel, Like One of the Family18 the myth persists in white America, serving to obscure the labor undertaken by black women in their employer's homes and the consequences of this labor for their families. Such consequences are suggested by the less-romanticized Calpurnia of Watchman. While Mockingbird's Calpurnia readily assented to Scout's request to visit her home, Watchman's is less welcoming: Jean Louise is shocked to find Calpurnia sitting with "haughty dignity," treating her with "company manners."19  This is a Calpurnia who asks, "What are you all doing to us?" (Ibid.). Rereading Mockingbird through Watchman should, then, draw attention to the problems of the "part of the family" trope, specifically, the damage done both to the women who were subject to it, and to their families. It is a theme that, while more clearly emphasized in Watchman, is also present in Mockingbird.

"The family group," wrote W.E.B. Du Bois, "... the ideal of the culture with which these folk have been born, is not based on the idea of an economically independent working mother ...What is the inevitable result of the clash of such ideals and such facts in the colored group? Broken families."20 Whites who employed a black women, notes Micki McElya, "never referred to her own family, a deliberate silence that allowed them to ignore the coercion that helped make possible the intimate relationship between female caretakers and their white charges."21 This, she suggests, "showed a fundamental lack of concern for black women's ... families, and the maternal work they performed outside the white domestic sphere."22 In Mockingbird, all that readers learn about Calpurnia's home life is that she has an unnamed number of sons, the oldest of whom, Zeebo, appears in the novel. Their parentage remains a mystery, not least because neither Calpurnia nor anybody else ever makes a direct reference to her having a partner. Watchman, by contrast, seems acutely aware of the impact of domestic labor on black women's families. There, Zeebo, the dutiful garbage collector and church stalwart of Mockingbird is a troubled individual who has had at least five divorces. Blind to the role that Calpurnia's domestic service may have played in her family's problems, Aunt Alexandra who faintly praises Calpurnia as "the best of the lot" (173) asserts, "That Zeebo of hers, that scamp's still in the trees" (Ibid.). Oddly, Scout recalls Atticus's efforts to reconcile Zeebo with Helen, his first wife and probable mother of his son Frank several years before the events of Watchman (157). It is one of the few textual examples of the Finches seeking meaningful engagement with Calpurnia's family.

While most Mockingbird critics appear to embrace Atticus's assertion that Calpurnia is a member of the family, others see her depiction as rather more problematic. Rebecca Sharpless places Calpurnia firmly among the "so-called Mammy cooks [who] were the creation of white people's imaginations, awash in longing for a golden age that never existed."23 Capturing the way in which the "loving caregiver" trope obscures the economic foundation of this relationship (Calpurnia is never seen to be paid), Angela Shaw-Thornburg asserts: "Calpurnia seems to function as a maternal figure who can be hired and fired."24 African-American author James McBride notes that Calpurnia is a "difficult" character with whom to engage because of her status as a "stereotypical black mammy," but he nevertheless suggests that she works as a character because she's "rooted in reality."25 McBride fails to note, however, that the reality in which she is rooted is, in part, constructed by fiction, most notably "Mammy" from Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind.

One of the most pernicious effects of the mammy trope is the role that it played in perpetuating the Southern myths of willing black subordination and benevolent slavery. Notes McElya, the "faithful slave narrative was sunk deep in the framework of postbellum domestic service."26 By the 1920s, she writes, very few domestic workers lived in their employers' homes, "the result of black women's broad refusal to sustain the fantasies of ownership and limitless service entertained by many of their employers. Refusing to live in was a concrete denial of the domestic arrangements that had allowed employers to describe these black women as 'like one of the (white) family.'"27 Thus, every suggestion of a familial relationship by Lee's characters and by her readers works to undermine black female autonomy and political agency. Equally perniciously, the mammy myth also served to establish the standards by which black behavior was judged. In both Mockingbird and Watchman, as in life, black women who refused to meet their employers' demands demands that arose from expectations developed under slavery rather than wage labor would inevitably be seen as "difficult." "This fact," writes McElya, "was widely lamented by whites as the 'servant problem' of the early twentieth century, which was easily conflated with that period's supposed 'Negro problem.'"28

The connection between the "servant problem" and the "negro problem" is vividly displayed in Mockingbird. Although a stern disciplinarian, Calpurnia's power is circumscribed, and her subordinate status is never in doubt. When she runs up the Radleys' front steps to warn them about the rabid dog, Scout declares, "She's supposed to go around the back" (124). Likewise, Calpurnia is never heard to express an opinion on a controversial topic. "Black domestics," writes Susan Tucker, "wearing the masks learned in slavery and often mothers whose jobs were crucial to their families' survival conformed to this code of silence."29 It is precisely this expectation of black subordination, irrespective of gender, that places Tom Robinson in an impossible position with Mayella Ewell. "At the trial," writes Theresa Godwin Phelps, "Tom is ... obeisant to Mayella and ... that leads him into trouble."30 Tom's decency, moreover, serves an unfortunate function, cultivating a "good negro/bad negro" dichotomy that is made possible, and reinforced, by the mammy stereotype. The continuing power of this dichotomy is to be found in white critics' responses to Lula, the black woman with whom Calpurnia briefly spars at her church.

"Lula," writes Phelps, "is what we would now call a black separatist."31 Likewise, Jeffrey Wood describes her as "bitter, separatist, and close minded;" Robert Evans suggests that she "is sharply contrasted" with the "generous-spirited Calpurnia;" Laurie Champion unfavorably compares Lula's "discriminatory attitude" to Jem's supposed color blindness; and most problematically, perhaps, John Carlos Rowe identifies what he calls Lula's "reverse racism."32 Katie Rose Guest Pryal is one of the few white critics who seems to understand what is at stake for Lula. "Unlike the other black members of First Purchase," she writes, "who allow the presence of the Finch children to push them into a position of weekday servility, Lula rebels against their presence in what has been, up until that moment, a black space, safe from white supremacy."33 By siding with a black character who demonstrates deference, these white critics illustrate the continuing power of, and white allegiance to, the mammy myth and to its relationship to the good/bad negro dichotomy.34 Indeed, a further element of the dichotomy a conflicted understanding of black female sexuality suggests much more about the Calpurnia-Finch family relationship than has hitherto been suggested.

In the periods in which Lee's novels are set and written, black men were, as indeed they often still are, understood by whites to be a sexual threat to white women and, thus, an existential threat to the white race.35 Black women, on the other hand, were categorized on a binary: as the sexually-voracious jezebel or the chaste mammy. Thus, Cameron Williams identifies Calpurnia as the "asexual surrogate mother in To Kill a Mockingbird," while Mary Bendel-Simso includes Calpurnia in a list of black female literary figures who "distort the sexuality and allegiance of African American women by portraying them as women without sexual desire or desirability."36 There are, however, considerable tensions in this construction of black women as asexual beings: tensions generated by white desire. A persistent theme among white male politicians who invoked their "old mammies" in the early part of the twentieth century as a standard against which to judge African Americans and find them wanting, was of a longing for a return to the white-black, male-female intimacy of their childhoods. "Circulating through these justifications of segregation and violence is," writes McElya, "a profound nostalgia for sanctioned physicality between black women and both white women and men ... for access to black women's bodies, beds, and private lives."37 Paying attention to white men's largely unacknowledged or obliquely referenced sexual relations with black women relations obscured by the culture's obsession with black men's sexual access to white women reveals a more complex understanding of black female agency, both in the written worlds of Harper Lee's novels, and the unwritten world in which they were produced. Central to this discussion is an issue hitherto un-broached in American letters: the sex life of Atticus Finch.

Sex and the Single Lawyer

The sex life of Atticus Finch would seem to be a somewhat sterile source of insight in the text. There is, nevertheless, a sexual undercurrent to Mockingbird that becomes more of an overtone when the novel is read through the prism of its historical context. The theme of Jem's increasing maturity, for example, connects directly to his sexual development. His interest in Miss Caroline and pride in showing off his chest hair are the most obvious indicators, but there is a more significant sign of his burgeoning sexual development that has thus far drawn no critical attention. On the night of the fire, Atticus wakes Scout who observes: "Jem was standing beside Atticus, groggy and tousled. He was holding his overcoat closed at the neck, his other hand was jammed into his pocket. He looked strangely overweight" (91). In her naivety, Scout does not realize that, like most pubescent boys woken suddenly in the night, Jem has an erection that he is desperately trying to hide. Suggesting that Scout is appropriately naïve about sex, the older narrator embraces that ignorance to signal to the reader that there is more going on than Scout realizes. Likewise, the humorously sexual connotations of Mrs. Merriweather's breathless repetition of the missionary J. Grimes Everett's name - "Mrs. Merriweather played her voice like an organ" and her frenzied assertion, "no conception, no conception," appeal over Scout's head to the reader (308). Sexual naïvety is also evident in Watchman when, because she was kissed by a boy, Scout believes she is pregnant (128). As such, it is possible that there are other moments in the text in which Scout's naivety about sexual matters suggests that there is more to be drawn from her depiction of relationships and events than has hitherto been noted. One such moment might be Atticus's assertion that Calpurnia is a "faithful member" of the Finch family.

Atticus, in his apparent purity, seems to be something of a sexual cold-fish. Indeed, Diann Baecker extends frequent parallels between Atticus and Jesus, writing that the former, "is almost Christ-like in his devotion to what is good and true and in his virginal asexuality;" further suggesting that he "has been widowed for a number of years, but never even dates another woman."38 Scout, moreover, refers to a Montgomery Advertiser cartoon showing Atticus barefooted, in short pants, chained to desk, "diligently writing on a slate while some frivolous-looking girls yelled, 'Yoo-hoo!' at him" (155). Underpinning the assumption of Atticus's sexual chasteness are, however, two further assumptions: first, that prior to his marriage Atticus was a forty-something year-old virgin, and second, that he gave up sex after becoming a widower seven years later. This, despite his courtroom admission that "there is no man living who has never looked upon a woman without desire" (273). Any suggestion that Atticus took advantage of sexual opportunities in Montgomery while a state legislator would seem to be belied by the newspaper cartoon. There are, nevertheless, reasons, historical and textual, to suggest that Atticus may have satiated his sexual desires much closer to home.

Atticus grew up on Finch's Landing, a cotton plantation founded by his ancestor Simon Finch who traveled from England for Philadelphia, thence to Jamaica, and finally to Alabama where he bought three slaves and established his homestead. At the Landing, the potential sexual activity of Simon's white daughters was strictly policed. The "daughters' rooms could be reached only by one staircase ... in the ground-floor bedroom of their parents, so Simon always knew the hours of his daughters' nocturnal comings and goings" (106).39 There is no account of any such arrangement for the black women on the plantation, an omission made all the more significant by Scout's observation that "because of Simon Finch's industry, Atticus was related by blood or marriage to nearly every family in the town" (6). That Atticus is said to be related to "nearly every family in town" without reference to race suggests the scope of Simon Finch's sexual activity. The diaries of Thomas Thistlewood, a British citizen who chronicled his time on sugar plantations in eighteenth-century Jamaica, suggest the sexual habits that the Finch patriarch may have picked up there. "Thistlewood," writes Trevor Burnard, "took full advantage of the sexual opportunities offered to white men. Living openly with slave or free mulatto concubines brought no social condemnation. White men were expected to have sex with black women, whether black women wanted sex or not."40

In the novel's historical context, then, any assumption of sexual chasteness on Atticus's part requires a belief that in a location approximately twenty-miles from the nearest town, a homeschooled, apparently heterosexual young man living on a plantation with a history of miscegenation, would not engage in the sexual pursuits that other men and boys pursued in similar situations.41 As John Dollard observes in his 1949 sociological classic, Caste and Class in a Southern Town: "Testimony seems to be quite widespread to the fact that many, if not most, southern boys begin their sexual experience with Negro girls, usually around the age of fifteen or sixteen."42 The suggestion that a young man in Atticus's position may have taken sexual advantage of his circumstances gains further credence from Douglas Blackmon's observation that Alabama was at the forefront of enormously successful attempts to maintain industry and agriculture through what was, in effect, legalized slavery. "Most offensive to blacks," he notes, "white men ... continued to exercise their slavery era presumption that they were entitled to the sexual companionship of virtually any African American woman residing on their property."43 The persistence of similar conditions in Maycomb is suggested by the character of Dolphus Raymond.

In the novel's first open acknowledgement of miscegenation, Jem observes of Raymond, "He's got a colored woman and all sorts of mixed chillun'"(214). In response to the observation that Raymond "doesn't look like trash," Jem says, "He's not, he owns all one side of the riverbank down there, and he's from a real old family to boot" (Ibid.). Raymond was supposed to marry "one of the Spender ladies," but following the wedding rehearsal, the would-be bride went upstairs "and blew her head off. Shotgun. She pulled the trigger with her toes." He continues, "They say it was because she found out about her colored woman, he reckoned he could keep her and get married too" (214). Despite Jem's use of the possessive "He's got a colored woman" critics have frequently romanticized or legalized Raymond's relationship. Claudia Durst Johnson describes Raymond as, "a white man who embraces the Other in taking a black wife and fathering her children."44 In the period in which the book was set, published, and initially read, however, interracial marriage was prohibited in Alabama.45 Even among those who do not legalize Raymond's relationship, there is a tendency to see him as an admirable outsider. Jochem Riesthuis identifies "the romantic figure of Mr. Dolphus Raymond" whose "narrative is in itself symbolic of the harshness of life in a small southern town, where condemnation and interference are never far away."46 Nevertheless, Riesthuis asks, "Even if Mr. Raymond has such long-lasting loving feelings for her, how much freedom does she ever feel to reject him?"47 His question is worthy of serious consideration, for Raymond's riverbank was, or was until not too long before the novel begins, what Finch's Landing appears no longer to be by the time of the trial: a working cotton plantation. This information is offered only in passing when Reverend Sykes tells Jem how Tom hurt his arm: "He got it caught in a cotton gin, caught it in Mr. Dolphus Raymond's cotton gin when he was a boy" (248). As such, the reader might be forgiven for missing it. But Riesthuis's point about meaningful consent is significant: it raises questions about the apparent passivity of Calpurnia and other black characters, and about the centrality of sexual exploitation, not only to these texts, but also to the activism it spawned in the world beyond it. It further suggests a hitherto unnoticed pairing of characters, or what Evans calls "unlikely duo[s]," in the text.48 Given that the position of "surrogate mother" is frequently ascribed to Calpurnia, it is both unsurprising because the mammy figure is understood in asexual terms and surprising because "surrogate mother" might also suggest "surrogate wife" that a parallel between Dolphus Raymond and the black women with whom he lives, and Atticus Finch and the black woman with whom he (mostly) lives, has never before been drawn.

Atticus Dreams of Calpurnia Finch

In a novel in which even the rabid dog shot by Atticus has a surname, it is curious that Calpurnia's is not revealed, not in Mockingbird nor in Watchman; not least because family names are so important in Maycomb. It is a significant "unsaid" of the novel. Nevertheless, the historical context of the novel suggests that Calpurnia is, most likely, a Finch: a literal member of the family. Returning from Calpurnia's church, the children discover that she grew up at Finch's Landing. "Grew up down there between the Buford Place and the Landin'. I've spent all my days workin' for the Finches or the Bufords, an' I moved to Maycomb when your daddy and your mamma married" (165). As she is a little older than Atticus, who was born around the late 1880s or early 1890s, it is likely that Calpurnia's mother, at least, was owned by the Finches. Certainly, Calpurnia's observation that she does not "have a real birthday," and just has "it on Christmas, it's easier to remember that way," suggests that her mother, if not technically a slave at the time of Calpurnia's birth, was living in bondage (165). As Frederick Douglass observed, "I do not remember to have ever met a slave who could tell of his birthday."49 It is equally likely that, following emancipation, Calpurnia's mother would have adopted the name of her owner: the most common practice among freed slaves. It is, of course, possible that Calpurnia was a Buford, not least because Miss Buford, Maudie Atkinson's aunt, taught Calpurnia to read. Nevertheless, Atticus's father took a special interest in Calpurnia, providing her a copy of Blackstone's Commentaries from which she taught Zeebo to read. Were Calpurnia a Buford, moreover, there would have been no need to suppress her surname in the text: few readers would remember that Miss Maudie was a Buford, nor would there be much reason to mention it. This omission may suggest the existence of another hitherto overlooked textual possibility that might serve, like the mystery of Boo Radley, as a structuring absence in the novel. Of all the novel's critics, only Jennifer Murray seems to get close to identifying it. Noting that there is no mention of a partner or a father to Calpurnia's children, she asks, "Would it give too much implicit sexual substance to Calpurnia? Would it create an implicit triangle with Atticus?"50 While the answer to the first question might be yes, the answer to the second may require a geometric reconfiguration.

The suggestion that Atticus and Calpurnia were involved in a sexual relationship is, of course, the sort of claim that academics make to draw attention to themselves and/or to ruin the experience of a much beloved text for its lay readers. There are, however, at least two occasions in Mockingbird when this possibility is strongly suggested. The first occurs when Calpurnia, Jem, and Scout are accosted by Lula at the church. Making clear her displeasure at the children's presence, Lula asks, contemptuously, why the children are there. "They's my comp'ny," says Calpurnia, to which Lula replies: "Yeah, an' I reckon you's comp'ny at the Finch house durin' the week" (158). The remark causes a murmur to run through the crowd, and while Calpurnia is said to be indignant, she never responds. If Lee achieved her goal of being the "Jane Austen of south Alabama," this may be her "silence of the Bertrams" moment.51 The second instance occurs not long afterwards when Aunt Alexandra demands that Calpurnia be fired, "... you've got do something about her," she tells Atticus while Scout is out of the room. "You've let things go on too long, Atticus, too long." The "things" that have gone on "too long" are left unsaid, but Alexandra's sudden concern about them appears to have something to do with Scout's increasing maturity and awareness. She tells Atticus, "You've got a daughter to think of. A daughter who's growing up" (182). Given that she has a black chauffeur, Alexandra's objections would not appear to be towards African American servants in general, but rather towards Calpurnia in particular. It is, moreover, hard to imagine that Aunt Alexandra, she of tight corsets and afternoon teas, would be willing to do the work of a black maid. Indeed, because having a maid was, in this period, an important status symbol, being without one would have been as socially uncomfortable for Aunt Alexandra as it was physically demanding.52 In Watchman, moreover, Calpurnia continued to work for Atticus and Alexandra long after the children had left home. Thus, it might be argued, Mockingbird's Calpurnia was to be replaced rather than simply dismissed. Alexandra had, furthermore, grown up at the Landing and was, perhaps, familiar with the sexual aspect past or present of her brother's relationship with Calpurnia. Her apparent lack of concern about Jem's awareness of the relationship would, moreover, suggest the inevitability and tacit acceptance of white-men-black-women couplings in small Southern towns.

The Atticus and Calpurnia nexus is further suggested by the conflicting accounts of Calpurnia's arrival in Maycomb. Initially, Scout observes that Calpurnia "had been with us ever since Jem was born," suggesting that she came as a nursemaid to help a new mother with her baby (7). This was, perhaps, the story Scout had been told by her father and/or Alexandra. Calpurnia, however, says that she moved to Maycomb two years earlier, when Atticus married Scout's mother, suggesting the possibility an ongoing concubinage (167). Such a relationship might, moreover, explain why Atticus waited so long to get married, and why, when he did so, he married a woman fifteen-years his junior to whom he was seemingly ill suited. In Mockingbird, we learn very little about Scout's mother. Nevertheless, in an interesting parallel to Calpurnia's unmentioned surname, Mrs. Finch, née Graham, lacks a first name, suggesting, perhaps, how each plays only half the role traditionally assigned to a wife. What little we do learn suggests that Mrs. Finch was the sort of society woman in whom Atticus had little interest. The two objects ascribed to her an old fashioned heavy silver coffee pitcher (306) and a silver dinner bell (62) suggest an existence marked by women's missionary circle coffees, and being waited on by Calpurnia. That Mrs. Dubose, the epitome of old Southern womanhood, held Scout's mother in such high esteem "A lovelier lady than your mother never lived" would seem to support the suggestion that Mrs. Finch was a society woman (153). Interestingly, Watchman ascribes a third object to Mrs. Finch: a bed separate from her husband (122). Thus, it might be possible to identify another set of paired duos: Atticus and his wife, and Raymond and his fiancé. Whereas Raymond was unsuccessful in his attempt to marry and maintain his illicit relationship (the discovery of his plans leading his betrothed to kill herself), Atticus may have been successful until a similar discovery: Scout's mother died of a broken heart. There are further aspects of Mockingbird which suggest a sexual relationship between Atticus and Calpurnia: the bedroom door knocking regimen that Atticus instituted in his home (65), the statement that when Calpurnia stayed over she slept in a cot in the kitchen a cot which, the only time we see it, is empty (156) and the revelation that Atticus was always awake and out of bed long before his children (285). In addition, the moment when Calpurnia fondly recalls a conversation with her employer about their respective ages seems, in the context of their more formal relationship, strangely intimate.53 Nevertheless, one of the strongest pieces of evidence for the possibility of this relationship appears most clearly in Watchman, and. less obviously, in Mockingbird: the suggestion that Atticus is Zeebo's father.

Zeebo makes two appearances in Mockingbird. First, he cleans up after one of Atticus's secrets is revealed: removing the corpse of the dead dog. Second, he displays his literacy gained by way of the book given to Calpurnia by Atticus's father when he leads the church congregation in song.54 In Watchman he is considerably more significant. He is the father of Frank, the young man involved in the car accident; he appears on either side of Jean Louise's visit to Calpurnia's house; and his marital life is a subject of discussion by, among others, Jean Louise, Aunt Alexandra, and Atticus. While Atticus tried to reconcile Zeebo with Helen, his first wife and the likely mother of Frank, there is no indication that Atticus tried the same with any of his other wives. Atticus's interest in his maid's son's marital life may be unusual, but less unusual, perhaps, than Alexandra's interest in the same. The reasons for this unexpected concern may become clearer once it is acknowledged that Zeebo's son, and Aunt Alexandra's son, have the same name.

"Names," Anette Gordon-Reed observed in Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, "often signal family ties."55 As part of her broader argument about their intimate relationship, she sets out considerable evidence that Jefferson, Atticus's hero, was involved in the naming of Hemings's children. That Frank, Zeebo's son, and Francis, Alexandra's son, have different versions of the same name might indicate a shared ancestor, not least because, Zeebo, like Alexandra, grew up at the Landing. It is possible that Zeebo and Alexandra drew on the same family source when naming their children, just as Jem was named after his father and grandfather, and Jean Louise after her mother and grandmother (114-115). The connection is leant further frisson by the recognition that Harper Lee's mother was named Frances Cunningham Finch. While it is possible that the Frank/Francis/Frances connection is a coincidence, much in both texts suggests otherwise. Indeed, Atticus's interest in Zeebo's marriage to Helen might suggest a concern about his grandson's and his not-quite-daughter-in-law's well-being. Zeebo's choice of name for his son could, furthermore, be an attempt to assert his own legitimacy in the face of the no doubt humiliating experience of being publicly denied by his white father.

"Demanding that individual items of evidence amount to proof," observes Gordon-Reed, "sets a standard that can only be met in the rarest of circumstances, either in history or in the law."56 That the Scout of Mockingbird does not encounter Dolphus Raymond, and thus does not learn about biracial children, until after Zeebo has disappeared from the novel and is therefore unable to identify her possible half-brother when she sees him is, by itself, obviously an insufficient piece of evidence for the existence of a Calpurnia-Atticus relationship. Likewise, the miscegenation implicit in the mention of the Creek Indian Wars fought over precisely that issue that appears briefly in the third paragraph of Mockingbird, and more explicitly on the eighth page of Watchman, is not, on its own, sufficient to support the claim that the theme is more important to the novel than has been suggested. Nevertheless, the totality of these and the previously identified aspects of the novels suggest that such a relationship is a strong possibility. Certainly, it is supported by more evidence than the simple assertion made by other critics that Calpurnia is single, married, or widowed. The point is, perhaps, that while Lee does not give us enough information to state definitively that there is such a relationship in the text, she does not give us enough information to rule it out. This argument nevertheless raises the question of why, if, as has been suggested, the relationship is strongly hinted at, it is never directly stated. A possible answer may be found in both the author's literary model and the way in which the text might seek to work on its readers.

Prior to declaring her wish to be the Jane Austen of south Alabama, Lee observed that her objective was to "leave some record of the kind of life that existed in a very small world."57 Thus Lee, like Austen, captures the world she inhabits in ways that are more than merely celebratory. In an essay on the two writers, Jean Frantz Blackall observes, "for Lee to write truthfully of the small southern town, she found herself drawn into the representation of elements ... whose passing is not necessarily to be lamented as part of a rich social pattern."58 Her skill as a chronicler of small town Alabama is such that she captures its contradictions and complexities in the ways that they might appear to the inhabitants of those towns both in terms of their obsessions and their blindness, in terms of what is spoken, and what is not. As such, the novels demand more from the reader than the partial vision literal and figurative exhibited by many of their protagonists. By offering repeated suggestions about the possibility of the Atticus and Calpurnia relationship, the texts seem to demand that we pay attention to that which is hidden in both the text and in life by the concern with sexual violence by black men against white women, including the far more pernicious and prevalent sexual violence of white men against black women.

Rape, Agency, Sex, and Politics

Historically, the partial liberation of black women from plantation life into domestic service did little to free them from sexual violence. Writes Sharpless:

The proximity of white men to African American women in the households where the women worked created enormous tensions for all of the women concerned, black and white. Sexual harassment by and nonconsensual sexual relationships with males living in the employer's house was one of the most difficult aspects of domestic service ... an African American woman was often considered fair game by white men, and her very body became a site of struggle, between the races and between the sexes.59

Indeed, it is estimated that three-quarters of the women who worked in domestic service in Greenwood, Mississippi in the 1950s and 1960s were raped by white men.60 In such circumstances, the suggestion of an Atticus and Calpurnia sexual relationship does not seem particularly outlandish. Calpurnia was in Atticus's or his family's employ in the two locations where sexual relations between white men and black women were most common: the plantation and the home. The veritable silence about this relationship, beyond the subtle references and allusions scattered throughout the two novels, might be considered evidence against the claim, and yet, chronicling small town life in the way Lee desired would make such silences an historically accurate depiction of the attitudes of white society towards such intimacies.

Echoing Miss Maudie's observation that, "The things that happen to people we never really know. What happens in houses behind closed doors, what secrets " (61), Dollard observes, "it is difficult to secure testimony on this score from white partners to such relationships; the only hints come from the gossip of other white people and the testimony of Negro women."61 He also recalls how a black informant stated that "everybody is protective of information about these relations."62 Nevertheless, the "net impression ... is that neither miscegenation nor concubinage has disappeared ... but that a rising social pressure had brought people to exaggerate the actual decline in these patterns since slavery days."63 Indeed, he concludes, "that the taboo falls heaviest on social acknowledgement of such relations rather than on the fact of their occurrence."64 Some white men, he notes, engaged in longstanding relationships with black women with relative openness. He recounts the story of "a judge of the supreme court of the state," who "had a Negro mistress living in a cabin in his back yard." Of their daughter, he observes, "[t]he father could not openly acknowledge her, although he supported her and gave her an education."65 Such, perhaps, was the experience of the Zeebo of Watchman. The very ubiquity of such relationships is further suggested by Dollard's further account of a white lawyer in the same town with an illegitimate African American daughter, and by Moates's account of Monroeville life in the 1930s.66 Behind the Lee home, observes Moates, was a shack inhabited by Anna Stabler, a mixed race woman who was reputed to be "the illegitimate daughter of a local judge."67 As such, a widower with a black maid whom he had known since childhood, who had been in and around his home all his life is obviously a likely candidate for such a relationship; just as, perhaps, a writer who grew up with such a relationship going on directly behind her own home might possibly be expected to incorporate such a theme in a work about racial mores in a Southern community. It is a relationship that Atticus and a longstanding taboo against their being openly discussed could well have kept "secret," at least by the town's standards on such issues. This raises of, course, the uncomfortable for some possibility that Atticus Finch was a rapist.

The claim that Thomas Jefferson repeatedly raped Sally Hemings because she could not, in any meaningful sense, consent to sex during their 38-year relationship, is, Gordon-Reed observes, a problematic one. It is, she says, predicated upon "a sophisticated technique":

It presents the proponent of the idea as enlightened and forward thinking with regard to the nature of slavery, even as that individual promotes a cardboard version of the system. It is all the more seductive because the idea is not without merit. The slave system was inherently coercive. Therefore, one could argue, every act of sex between a master and slave was the equivalent of nonconsensual sex, in other words, rape. We may know this is true in the theoretical sense, but something should tell us that it cannot have been true in every situation, under every circumstance ... Do we really believe that over the entire course of slavery in the United States, no master and slave woman ever experienced a mutual sexual or emotional attachment to one another?68

We have, she says, "to confront the unpleasant notion for many, both black and white, that Sally Hemings may have welcomed any advances that Thomas Jefferson might have made."69 It may be, however, that this debate about the possibility of an emotional attachment between either Jefferson and Hemings, or Atticus and Calpurnia, is a side issue that misses what is most politically important about these relationships: what they suggest about black female agency under slavery and Jim Crow. "No matter what amount of short-term gain may be achieved by focusing on black powerlessness (to trigger white guilt)," writes Gordon-Reed about the Jefferson as rapist trope, "it can never be in the long-term interests of blacks to accept so limited and distorted a version of history."70 While she is concerned to establish the possibility of a loving relationship, she also pays attention to the strategic value of such coupling. Although the advantages of miscegenation to white men are obvious, paying attention to the benefits that sometimes accrued to black women permits readers to bracket the sentimentality that infects many accounts of such relationships; it thus restores a degree of agency to the women who were a part of these common, but frequently overlooked, pairings. Recognizing that some of these relationships were, whatever else they might have been, often a form of strategic resistance, situates these woman in a tradition of black women's private and later public struggles against racial and sexual subordination. It permits the acknowledgement of their resilience and agency in ways the victim or loving participant binary makes impossible. It also demonstrates that the dominant understanding of Calpurnia in Mockingbird is a white fantasy that not only captures the blindness of Lee's white characters to the complexities of white-black relations in the period in which the book was set, but also the ongoing blindness of white readers divorced from their own history.

James McBride writes of Calpurnia, "I think she was a wonderful character, but you always live in that tight space when you're black. Harper Lee's approach gave Calpurnia some dimension. Calpurnia had a deep understanding of these issues, although she was restricted in terms of what she could do about a lot of these things."71 He thus identifies the constrained agency with which many African and African American women have historically wrestled on the North American continent, even prior to the founding of the nation. Burnard's account of such agency in the Jamaican sugar plantations the economic foundation of Atticus's law practice is equally applicable to the Finches' American cotton fields. "Slave women," he writes, "were active participants in a dynamic internal commerce based on exploitation of their sexuality. Earnings ... were one means whereby they could pursue entrepreneurial activities and enhance the likelihood that they would someday own property."72 This claim should not, of course, obscure one's recognition that this exploitation was not under these women's sole control. Nevertheless, failing to recognize such agency is a failure to recognize black resistance, even if, as Gordon-Reed points out about Hemings, it is "especially hard (and unpleasant) for some to think that a black woman might have exercised her will, circumscribed as it was, by saying yes to Thomas Jefferson and, in doing so, have been able to exercise some influence over him."73 For slave women, such relationships could be a way of escaping the back-breaking labor of the plantation, of accruing food and material goods to which they otherwise would not have had access, or of securing the safety, status, or even freedom of their children. Much the same can be said for the possible benefits that sexual relationships with white men brought to black domestics. Dollard notes, for example, that the offspring of such couplings, "although they cannot be acknowledged socially, they can be supported and aided to a chief a preferential position within the Negro group," just as, perhaps, Zeebo's literacy in Mockingbird gives him a privileged position in the church.74 These benefits were also psychic and political. Dollard argues that for black domestics involved with white men there may have been an element of revenge against the white women who oversaw their exploitation; likewise, such hostility extended to the white men themselves, with relationships undertaken to expose the hypocrisies of segregation.75 Iris Halpern further notes an ideological aspect: "Miscegenation threatened to destabilize and ultimately render illegible what society understood as race."76 The suggestion that the Calpurnia of Mockingbird was a calculating political actor might, nevertheless, be perceived as something of an over-reading, not least because of the concerns expressed by African American critics about the novel's black characters. The history of black women's resistance in slavery and domestic servitude suggests, however, that Calpurnia's apparent lack of depth might be better read as strategy.

The faithfulness that Atticus and many critics ascribe to Calpurnia may well be real, but they fail to appreciate is that such faithfulness was often "fundamentally strategic."77 That neither the white characters in Mockingbird nor its readers have recognized this is, perhaps, a testament to the agency that ensured black survival under the conditions of slavery, peonage, and later, domestic service. "Black women," writes Darlene Clark Hine, "as a rule, developed and adhered to a cult of secrecy, a culture of dissemblance, to protect the sanctity of inner aspects of their lives ... Only with secrecy, thus achieving a self-imposed invisibility, could ordinary Black women accrue the psychic space and harness the resources needed to hold their own in the often one-sided and mismatched resistance struggle."78 The "modest double life" that Scout ascribes to Calpurnia should, perhaps, alert readers to how little they know about her (168). That it does not, suggests not only white American susceptibility as readers and citizens to sentimental narratives about race, but also their ignorance of history. While not playing down the horrors of their experiences, some such relationships might best be understood as evidence of the agency of black women, not only in their own freedom struggles, but also in the broader freedom struggles of their people.

On the Irrelevance of White Saviors

In her 2010 book, At the Dark End of the Street, historian Danielle McGuire shows how the Montgomery Bus Boycott arose from the responses of black domestic workers to the violence they experienced at the hands of white men, both in their employers' homes, and on the buses they used to travel to them. She writes:

It is no surprise that buses became the target of African-American resistance in Montgomery during the 1955-56 boycott. It was much easier, not to mention safer, for black women to stop riding the buses than it was to bring their assailants - usually white policemen or bus drivers - to justice. By walking hundreds of miles to protest humiliation and testifying publicly about physical and sexual abuse, black women reclaimed their bodies and demanded to be treated with dignity and respect ... [it is only] by understanding the long and relatively hidden history of sexualized violence in Montgomery, Alabama, and African Americans' efforts to protect black womanhood, can we see that the Montgomery bus boycott was more than a movement for civil rights. It was also a women's movement for dignity, respect, and bodily integrity.79

That the Calpurnia of Mockingbird was wearing a mask that neither the book's narrator nor the great majority of its readers could penetrate is, perhaps, suggested by the justifiably embittered Calpurnia of Go Set a Watchman who treats Jean Louise as simply another white oppressor. Watchman nevertheless rumbles with an undercurrent of black political mobilization. Indeed, Jean Louise unwittingly reveals the consequences of her family's treatment of Calpurnia, and indeed, of other families' treatment of their black servants, when she surveys the scene outside of her former maid's house:

The road was half blocked by a line of cars standing aslant halfway in the ditch. She parked behind the last one and got out. She walked down the row past a 1939 Ford, a Chevrolet of ambiguous vintage, a Willys, and a robin's-egg blue hearse with the words HEAVENLY REST picked out on a chromium semicircle on its front door. She was startled, and she peered inside: in the back there were rows of chairs screwed to the floor and no place for a recumbent body, quick or dead. This is a taxi, she thought (155).

In the struggle for civil rights, black activists frequently employed hearses as a means of transportation because they believed that the police would be less likely to stop them. Indeed, Dr. and Mrs. King frequently traveled to and from events in this fashion.80 While the small gathering of black dignitaries on Calpurnia's porch show the traditional signs of deference to Jean Louise upon her arrival, they nevertheless continue to watch her in a way that makes her uncomfortable, suggesting that they, too, are wearing the mask that Calpurnia has worn for most of her life. It is, however, a mask that their demeanor, and the presence of the hearse, suggest is about to be discarded. As such, it may be that Watchman demonstrates that the Calpurnia in Mockingbird is precisely the Calpurnia that she wanted white people to see, and that she, like the Calpurnia of Watchman, knows that white saviors are unnecessary.


Simon Stow is an Associate Professor in the Department of Government at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA. He is the author of American Mourning. Tragedy, Democracy, Resilience (Cambridge, 2017), Republic of Readers? The Literary Turn in Political Thought and Analysis (SUNY, 2007), and the co-editor, with Cyrus Ernesto Zirakzadeh, of A Political Companion to John Steinbeck (Kentucky, 2013).

Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the roundtable "The Role of Literature in American Political Thought" at the 2015 American Political Science Association conference in San Francisco, CA; the Political Theory Colloquium at Georgetown University in March 2017; and at the conference, "Blurring Genres Network: Recovering the Humanities for Political Science and Area Studies, "Politics as Literature and Area Studies," at the University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, September 6, 2017. At APSA, I am grateful to my fellow panelists, Peter Augustine Lawler, Joel Schlosser, John Seery, and Catherine Zuckert for their comments. At Georgetown, I wish to thank Nolan Bennett, Kristen Collins, Nura Hossainzadeh, the other attendees, and, as ever, Shannon Stimson, for their thoughts and comments. At Berkeley, I am grateful to Lawrie Balfour, Mark Bevir, Xiaomei Chen, Susan Hodgett, Patrick James, James Martel, Nathan Pippenger, and Meg Wesling, for their critical engagement and encouragement. Funding for the Berkeley conference was provided by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) in the United Kingdom ( Additional thanks are due to Garrett Gilmore for a productive conversation about Harper Lee at the 2017 Southern American Studies Association meeting. At Post 45, I am enormously grateful to Sean McCann for his patience, support, and critical engagement. I am also grateful to Rachel Watson whose wonderful work on To Kill a Mockingbird pulled me into his orbit. Thanks must also go to Anna Shechtman and Palmer Rampell for their thoughtful editing. At William and Mary, I am grateful to John Lombardini, Claire McKinney, and Jackson Sasser for helpful discussions about aspects of the paper, and to Kristen Popham for her thoughts, comments, and able research assistance. Considerable thanks are also due to the students from my seminar "Theorizing Harper Lee's America" in the spring semesters of 2016 and 2017. Thanks are always due to Caroline Hanley. The views expressed here, and any and all mistakes, are my own.

  1. Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped From the Beginning. The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, (New York: National Books, 2016), 370. []
  2. White critics are generally more forgiving. See, Iris Halpern, "Rape, Incest, and Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird: On Alabama's Legal Construction of Sexuality in the Context of Racial Subordination," Columbia Journal of Law and Gender 743 (2008-2009): 757; and Eric Sundquist, "Blues for Atticus Finch" in The South as An American Problem, ed. Larry J. Griffin and Don H. Doyle (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995), 192. []
  3. Calpurnia speaks or is referenced by name 80 times in the novel; Tom Robinson only 69. She also appears in more scenes. []
  4. While there is much to suggest that this is a predominantly white phenomenon that it is white readers and white citizens who choose to overlook the issues raised about interracial relationships in the text the discussion here suggests that the relative silence about such relationships was often a product of the reluctance of both whites and blacks to address them publicly. This is not to argue that their reasons for doing so were the same. In many instances, black silence was undoubtedly a product of a legitimate fear of violent white reprisals. []
  5. See Simon Stow, "Written and Unwritten America: Philip Roth on Reading, Politics and Theory," Studies in American Jewish Literature 23 (2004): 77-87. []
  6. Jennifer Murray, "More Than One Way to (Mis)Read a Mockingbird," The Southern Literary Journal, 43.1 (2010): 88-89. []
  7. Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (New York: Harper Collins, 2014), 326. Kindle edition. Subsequent references in parentheses. []
  8. The literary benefits of such historical knowledge are further suggested by Eric J. Sundquist's misunderstanding of Jacobs's assertion that Hitler is "washin' all the feeble-minded." Sundquist sees this as a deliberately anachronistic allusion to the Nazi genocide aimed at drawing the parallel between Germany treatment of the Jews in the 1930s, and America's treatment of African Americans in the 1950s. The historical context nevertheless suggests the more prosaic explanation: that Jacobs is unaware that "sterilization" has more than one meaning. Eric J. Sundquist, Strangers in the Land. Blacks, Jews, in Post-Holocaust America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009), 188. []
  9. Norris V. Alabama, No. 534 SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES 294 U.S. 587; 55 S. Ct. 579 February 15, 18, 1935, Argued April 1, 1935, Decided. Accessed 12/13/2016. []
  10. It might be argued that Atticus was adopting a more positive tone with his daughter than with his brother, but as Atticus makes clear to Jack: "When a child asks you something, answer him, for goodness' sake. But don't make a production of it. Children are children, but they can spot an evasion quicker than adults, and evasion simply muddles 'em," (115). []
  11. Keith Collins and Nikki Sonnad, "See Where 'Go Set a Watchman' Overlaps with 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' Word-for-Word," Quartz, July 14, 2015. Accessed 3/9/2017. []
  12. James B. Kelley, "Reading To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman as Palimpsest," The Explicator 74.4 (2016): 237. []
  13. See Simon Stow, Republic of Readers? The Literary Turn in Political Thought and Analysis (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007). []
  14. See, for example, Claudia Durst Johnson, To Kill a Mockingbird: Threatening Boundaries (New York: Twayne, 1994), 97; Dean Shackelford, "The Female Voice in To Kill a Mockingbird: Narrative Strategies in Film and Novel," Mississippi Quarterly, 50.1 (1996): 109; John Carlos Rowe, "Race, Fetishism, and the Gift Economy To Kill a Mockingbird," in On Harper Lee: Essays and Reflections, ed. Alice Hall Petry (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2008), 5; Robert C. Evans, "Unlikely Duos: Paired Characters in To Kill a Mockingbird," in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. New Essays, ed. Michael J. Meyer (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, 2010), 103; and Sierra Holmes, "Cross-Examining To Kill a Mockingbird: Three Questions Raised by Go Set a Watchman," Language Arts Journal of Michigan, 31.1 (2015): 60, 59. []
  15. Mary McDonagh Murphy, Scout, Atticus, and Boo: A Celebration of Fifty Years of To Kill a Mockingbird (New York: Harper Collins, 2010), 52. []
  16. Marianne M. Moates, A Bridge to Childhood: Truman Capote's Southern Years (New York: Henry Holt, 1989), 20. []
  17. Johnson, Threatening Boundaries, 137. []
  18. Alice Childress, Like One of the Family. Conversations from a Domestic's Life (Boston: Beacon Press, 1986). []
  19. Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman (New York: Harper Collins, 2015),159. Kindle edition. Subsequent references in parentheses. []
  20. W.E.B. Du Bois, Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1920), 258-259. []
  21. Micki McElya, Clinging to Mammy: The Faithful Slave in Twentieth-Century America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007), Kindle location, 800-803. []
  22. Ibid. See, also, Susan Tucker, "The Black Domestic in the South: Her Legacy as Mother and Mother Surrogate," in Southern Women, ed. Caroline Matheny Dillman (New York: Hemisphere Publishing, 1988), 93-102. []
  23. Rebecca Sharpless, Cooking in Other Women's Kitchens: Domestic Workers in the South, 1865-1960 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2010), xiv, 190 n.14. Likewise, Michelle Ware suggests that although "Calpurnia has some of the qualities of the stereotypical 'mammy' figure, Lee's characterization extends beyond that limited portrayal." Michele S. Ware, "On influences on Scout's Childhood," in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, ed. Harold Bloom (New York: Infobase Publishing, 2010), 64. See, also, John Burt, "After the Southern Renascence," in The Cambridge History of American Literature. Volume 7: Prose Writing, 1940-1990, ed. Sacvan Bercovitch (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 367. []
  24. Angela Shaw-Thornburg, "On Reading To Kill a Mockingbird: Fifty Years Later," Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird: New Essays, 114-115. See, also, Jeff Abernathy, "Divided Hearts: Carson McCuller and Harper Lee Explore Racial Uncertainty," in Bloom's Modern Critical Views: Carson McCullers, ed. Harold Bloom (New York: Infobase Publishing, 2009), 109. []
  25. Murphy, Scout, Atticus, and Boo, 136. []
  26. McElya, Clinging to Mammy, Kindle location, 2271. []
  27. Ibid., Kindle location, 2134. []
  28. Ibid., Kindle location, 2097. []
  29. Susan Tucker, "The Black Domestic in the South," 100. []
  30. Teresa Godwin Phelps, "The Margins of Maycomb: A Rereading of To Kill a Mockingbird," Alabama Law Review, 45 (Winter 1994): 527. []
  31. Ibid., 528. Phelps's use of this term would seem to reintroduce the white racism that she would disavow. The term "black separatist" is often employed by whites as a pejorative. Thus, even as Phelps seeks to identify as problematic the way in which "good negro" behavior is expected of blacks noting that "people like Lula are not what is expected in the Blacks who hope to be protected by white law" by calling her a "black separatist," Phelps makes Lula deviant. As such, Phelps's acknowledgement that Lula is "at least partly right" in resenting the encroachment of white children into a black space taketh away as it giveth (Ibid., 529). "Partly right" may mean "partly wrong," with the white academic apparently feeling entitled to judge albeit fictional black behavior and find it wanting. Phelps, that is, sides, unconsciously perhaps, with the "faithful mammy figure" over the assertive black woman who refuses to show deference to whites. Joseph Crespino makes a similarly problematic claim, calling Lula "the black-separatist member of Calpurnia's church." Lula's position, he writes, "in relation to Calpurnia reproduces Black Power's position toward African American liberals during the civil rights era." Like Phelps, he, too, seems to conflate black assertiveness with black separatism in a way that reinscribes the very white expectations of black behavior that he seeks to identify as illegitimate in his article. Neither Phelps nor Crespino consider the possibility that Lula might simply be somebody who believes that integration must go both ways. Joseph Crespino, "The Strange Career of Atticus Finch," Southern Cultures 6.2 (2000): 23. For a discussion of the necessarily pejorative implications of the term "black separatist," see Southern Poverty Law Center, "Black Separatist." []
  32. Jeffery B. Wood, "Bending the Law: The Search for Justice and Moral Purpose," in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird: New Essays, 90; Evans, "Paired Characters," 104; Laurie Champion, "'When You Finally See Them': The Unconquered Eye in To Kill Mockingbird," Southern Quarterly 37.2 (1999): 250; and Rowe, "Race, Fetishism, and the Gift Economy,"13. Rowe's characterization of Lula's response to the presence of the children not only obscures the power differential in the relationship between African American adults and white children, it also seems to buy into the myth that the mitigation of white privilege is a form of discrimination. []
  33. Katie Rose Guest Pryal, "Walking in Another's Skin: Failure of Empathy in To Kill a Mockingbird," in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird: New Essays, 187. []
  34. Much the same might be said about those critics who sentimentalize the way in which, during the trial, African Americans give up their front row balcony seats for white children. The very same deference demanded, or taken for granted, by white characters and readers in this instance is ultimately the cause of Tom Robinson's death. []
  35. See, for example, Timothy B. Tyson, Radio Free Dixie. Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2001). For the continuing salience of this trope see Chloe Angyal, "I Don't Want to Be an Excuse for Racist Violence Anymore," New Republic, June 22, 2015. Accessed 1/1/18. []
  36. Cameron Williams, "A Primitive and Frightening South": Gender and Sexual Violence in Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Southern Fiction, Ph.D. dissertation Florida State University, 2014; Mary M. Bendel-Simso, "The Construction of Maternity in Southern Literature: Southern ladies, Southern Mothers, Southern Mammies, and Maternal Sexuality" I The Literary Mother: Essays on Representations of Maternity and Child Care, ed. Susan C. Staub, (Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 2007), 71. []
  37. Indeed, she continues, "Denied here was the fact that whites continued to claim sexual access to black people within coercive as well as consensual frameworks, while often responding to even the suggestion of black men's cross-racial desire with violence and murder." McElya, Clinging to Mammy, Kindle Location, 465. []
  38. Diann L. Baecker, "Telling It in Black and White: The Importance of the Africanist Presence in To Kill a Mockingbird," Southern Quarterly 36.3 (1998): 131. []
  39. This, of course, also reeks of incest. Indeed, Atticus notes that his generation of Finches was the first generation of the family not to marry their cousins, asking his sister: "Would you say the Finches have an incestuous streak?" (173). []
  40. Trevor Burnard, Mastery, Tyranny, and Desire: Thomas Thistlewood and His Slaves in the Anglo-Jamaican World (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), Kindle location, 115. []
  41. See Arthur F. Raper, The Tragedy of Lynching (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1933), 83. Those who would point to Atticus's later rectitude by way of response might, nevertheless, consider that Atticus's prowess as a marksman could suggest that his younger self was quite different from the paragon of virtue many believe that he later became. Indeed, the frequency with which Atticus is labelled a "nigger-lover" in Mockingbird, and his admission, when asked by Scout, that "I certainly am" such a person, might serve as further evidence of his proclivity for miscegenation (144). []
  42. John Dollard, Caste and Class in a Southern Town (New York: Doubleday, 1949), 139. []
  43. Douglas A. Blackmon, Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II (New York: Anchor Books, 2009), 271. []
  44. Johnson, Threatening Boundaries, 87. See also, Robert Lawrence Antus, "'The Et Tu Brute Complex' Compulsive Self-Betrayal," Reading Improvement 43.1 (2006): 41; and Vandana Saini, "A Critical Study of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird," Research Scholar 3.1 (2015): 395. []
  45. Julie Nokov, Racial Union: Law, Intimacy, and the White State in Alabama 1865-1954 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2008), 1-2. Despite the 1967 Loving v. Virginia ruling, Alabama did not overturn its ban on such marriages until the year 2000; even then 40 percent of those voting wished to keep it. []
  46. Jochem Riesthuis, "Symbolic Justice: Reading Symbolism in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird," in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird: New Essays, 170. []
  47. Ibid., 172. []
  48. See, Evans, "Unlikely Duos." []
  49. Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (New York: Random House, 2000), 17. Not only does Calpurnia not know the month and day of her birthday in To Kill a Mockingbird, she does not even know the year (165). []
  50. Murray, "More than One Way to (Mis)Read," 85. []
  51. Roy Newquist, Counterpoint (New York: Rand McNally, 1964), 412; Brian Southam," The Silence of the Bertrams," The Times Literary Supplement, February 17, 1995, 13-14. []
  52. Invoking, as it did, the romanticized understanding of the "mammy" figure. McElya, Clinging to Mammy, Kindle location, 405. []
  53. "'I'm older than Mr. Finch even.' Calpurnia grinned. 'Not sure how much, though. We started rememberin' one time, trying to figure out how old I was - I can remember back just a few years more'n he can, so I'm not much older, when you take off the fact that men can't remember as well as women'" (165). The grin and the fond reminiscence suggest the possibility of a greater familiarity than might be expected between white employer and black employee. []
  54. Interestingly, Calpurnia states that only about four members of the church can read. They are Reverend Sykes, Calpurnia, Zeebo, and an unnamed fourth. That fourth might be another of Calpurnia's sons, though if that is the case, it is odd that Calpurnia does not mention it. This might suggest that Calpurnia's other son or sons were not fathered by Atticus and that, as such, there was no pressure on Calpurnia to teach them to read. []
  55. Annette Gordon-Reed, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 1998), Kindle location, 4369. []
  56. Ibid., Kindle location, 270. []
  57. Newquist, Counterpoint, 412. []
  58. Jean Frantz Blackall, "Valorizing the Commonplace: Harper Lee's Response to Jane Austen," On Harper Lee, 21. Blackall sees them as observers rather than critics. By way of contrast, see Claudia L. Johnston, Jane Austen: Women, Politics, and the Novel (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990). []
  59. Sharpless, Cooking in Other Women's Kitchens, 138. []
  60. Danielle McGuire, At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power (New York: Vintage Books, 2010), Kindle location, 3675. []
  61. Dollard, Caste and Class, 148. []
  62. Ibid., 139. []
  63. Ibid, 142. []
  64. Ibid., 151. []
  65. Ibid., 150. []
  66. Ibid., 142. Dollard also observes that the lawyer's grown son had a black mistress. []
  67. Moates, Bridge to Childhood, 37. See also, Henry L. "Max" Cassady, Jr. "Harper Lee's Dolphus Raymond Inspired by Father's Client," The Alabama Lawyer 77 (2016): 413-419. []
  68. Gordon-Reed, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, Kindle location, 2572. []
  69. Ibid., Kindle location, 3694. []
  70. Ibid., Kindle location, 2599. []
  71. Murphy, Scout, Atticus, and Boo, 133. []
  72. Burnard, Mastery, Tyranny, and Desire, Kindle location, 2314. []
  73. Gordon-Reed, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, Kindle location, 2588. []
  74. Dollard, Class and Caste, 143. []
  75. In Go Set a Watchman, Calpurnia's clear affection for the deceased Jem, and her disdain for Scout, might be considered evidence of her possible love for the father with whom she was intimately involved, and her anger towards the woman, Scout's mother, who temporarily at least came between them. []
  76. Halpern, "Rape, Incest, and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird," 758. []
  77. McElya, Clinging to Mammy, Kindle location, 1984. []
  78. Darlene Clark Hine, "Rape and the Inner Lives of Black Women in the Middle West," Signs 14.4 (1989): 915. []
  79. McGuire, Dark End of the Street, Kindle location, 251. []
  80. For more on the close connection between death, mourning, and African American political activism, see Simon Stow, "Agonistic Homecoming: Frederick Douglass, Joseph Lowery, and the Democratic Value of African American Public Mourning,"American Political Science Review, 104:4 (2010): 681-697; and Simon Stow,American Mourning. Tragedy. Democracy. Resilience. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017), especially Chapter 2." []