Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Who "Wears a Mask" in To Kill A Mockingbird?

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What does it mean to "wear a mask"? In Paul Laurence Dunbar's poem "We Wear the Mask," he talks about somebody hiding who they really are and how they feel, just to please others around them. So I guess, in other words, to "wear a mask" means to disguise your true self by acting differently around others.

Throughout the novel To Kill A Mockingbird, it is clear that many of the characters "wear a mask." Some characters only hide themselves occasionally, whereas others hide themselves for most of the story.

One of the characters that "wears a mask" in the novel, is the Finch's housewife, Calpurnia. At the Finch's house, Calpurnia is a very proper and knowledgeable lady.  She is very polite, well-mannered, courteous and strict when she needs to be. Even though she is African American, Calpurnia has a rich vocabulary and speaks like all the other white folks in Maycomb County.  She also cares a lot for Jem and Scout but doesn't fuss too much when the kids don't act or dress like a lady or gentleman. Likewise, Calpurnia isn't one to pick fights with anyone and is quite quiet around the Finch house while minding her own business.

Calpurnia from the film adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird
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However, in chapter 12, we start to see Calpurnia put on a mask. In the story, when it is decided that Jem and Scout will go to Calpurnia's church, Calpurnia's personality begins to change. While getting ready for church in the morning, Calpurnia is worried about what the kids are wearing and if they look like a proper lady and gentleman. This is strange since Calpurnia has not taken this much care before to how Jem and Scout dress, but now that all of her friends are going to see the kids, she wants her friends to believe that she is taking proper care of the kids. Calpurnia even admits to Scout, "I don't want anyone saying I don't look after my children." Upon arriving at the church, Calpurnia and the kids run into Lula, a bitter and spiteful lady. Calpurnia soon begins to pick a fight with Lula after a rude comment was made about Jem and Scout not being welcome in the African American church. Throughout the dispute, Calpurnia's language changes to the African American slang. This is a completely different side of Calpurnia that we have never seen before. The Calpurnia that we know speaks very properly and knowledgeably. When Scout asks Calpurnia why her personality changed at church, Calpurnia admits, "You're not gonna change any of them by talkin' right, they've got to want to learn themselves, and when they don't want to learn there's nothing you can do but keep your mouth shut or talk their language."
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It is interesting to see how quickly someone can put their "mask" on, as was demonstrated by
Calpurnia in the novel. Calpurnia only wore her mask for a little while and eventually took it off, although this is not always the case.

Do you wear a mask sometimes? Maybe even most of the time?

All quotes courtesy of Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird Novel
Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1960. Print.


1 comment:

  1. You did a very good job explaing. Thank you! I really needed help with this one! Good job! :D