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In "To Kill a Mockingbird" what unfortunate characteristics do the ladies of the...

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strawberrykiwi | Student, Grade 10 | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted December 10, 2009 at 9:43 AM via web

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In "To Kill a Mockingbird" what unfortunate characteristics do the ladies of the missionary circle display?

Do you think this is typical of such groups?

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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted December 10, 2009 at 10:47 AM (Answer #1)

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Harper Lee creates a group of would-be do-gooders in To Kill a Mockingbird's "ladies of the Maycomb Alabama Methodist Episcopal Church South." This "missionary group" meets regularly to discuss matters of international religious interest over tea and tarts, but their true nature is uncovered when Scout attends one of their powwows to assist Aunt Alexandra with refreshments. The women seem sincerely interested in the outcome of the missionary work administered by one J. Grimes Everett to the mysterious tribe of Mrunas in deepest, darkest Africa. (There actually is no Mruna tribe; it is a fictional name originated by the author.) However, they don't seem quite as concerned for their black brethren in Maycomb. Their remarks reveal a superior attitude toward the local Negroes, and they appear ready to initiate action against some of them if necessary.

The women are gossipy...

"... 'dyou hear what that cousin of mine did the other day?"

snobbish...

"There's one thing I truly believe... If we just let them know we forgive 'em, that we've forgotten it, then this whole thing'll blow over."

arrogant...

"At least we don't have that sin on our shoulders down here."

hypocritical...

"I always say forgive and forget, forgive and forget... Down here we just say you live your way and we'll live ours."

 and racist...

"I tell you, there's nothing more distracting than a sultry darky. Their mouths go down to here. Just ruins your day to have one of 'em in the kitchen." 

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mrs-campbell | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted December 10, 2009 at 10:21 AM (Answer #2)

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Harper Lee certainly does paint the missionary ladies in a rather negative light, highlighting the racism, self-righteousness, and hypocritical nature of some of Southern society's social circles.  The women themselves are incredibly hypocritical; this means that their actions don't match up with what they claim their beliefs to be.  This is seen in their intense concern over the poor Mrunas tribespeople, and the service that the esteemed J. Grimes Everett is attempting to give these people.  So, apparently, if we were to believe their concern over these impoverished tribes, we would assume that these women are charitable, and want to help raise poor people of a different color up out of their difficult circumstances.  However, their attitudes about the poor people of a different color that are serving in their homes and walking in the streets of their towns don't receive that same concern or care.  Instead, they despise that Atticus defended a black man, and the chatty Mrs. Merriweather even suggests that black should stick to their ways and leave white people alone.  Mrs. Farrow even implies that no matter how kind you are to black people, they are still a violent people that cannot be reformed, and that "no lady [is] safe in her bed these nights" because of the criminal black men stalking the streets looking to do harm.  They are upset that Atticus tried to help the black community, all the while professing to be concerned and charitable towards some far-off tribe of natives.  It is incredibly hypocritical.

They are also ungrateful and rude.  They are sitting in Atticus's house, eating his food, in front of his sister, and have the audacity to insult him.  They show no gratitude for Alexandria's--and hence Atticus's--status as a host, and no respect.  Even if they disagreed with Atticus, they should not have spoken about it in his own home.  They are proud and self-righteous; they consider themselves better than everyone around them, black or poor.  They are racist and gossipy, with vicious tongues and dangerous opinions; overall, not a bright picture.

I hope that those thoughts helped; good luck!

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