In Chapter 24 of To Kill a Mockingbird, how does the author reveal the fact that the women in Maycomb (the women in the missionary circle) are hypocrites?

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poetrymfa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter 24, the ladies of Maycomb gather at Atticus' house in order to host their missionary circle tea and to "[fight] the good fight all over the house." Led by Mrs. Grace Merriweather (described as "the most devout lady in Maycomb"), the ladies discuss the "squalid lives" of the Mrunas, an African tribe who have decidedly non-Western practices and beliefs:

They put the women out in huts when their time came... they had no sense of family... they subjected children to terrible ordeals when they were thirteen; they were crawling with yaws and earworms, they chewed up and spat out the bark of a tree into a communal pot and then got drunk on it. 

The women have deep pity for the Mrunas and great admiration for J. Grimes Everett, the "saintly" man who is trying to convert the tribe to Christianity to drive them away from their "darkness," "immorality," "sin," and "squalor."

The ladies preach the importance of forgiving and forgetting, but then damn the black individuals in their very own town for their so-called sins. They criticize the cooks and field hands for "grumbling" after the trial of Tom Robinson, commenting, "there's nothing more distracting that a sulky dark... Just ruins your day to have one of 'em in the kitchen." In one breath they comment how unsafe they feel in their beds at night with black people around, despite their best attempts to "educate" them; in the next, they complain about having to pay the black help a "dollar and a quarter every week" while the economy is depressed. They also passive-aggressively speak about Atticus' attempt to aid Tom Robinson while enjoying the luxuries of his own house. 

This routine gossip speaks to the lack of awareness these women have of their privileged lives as white women of relatively good socioeconomic backgrounds. They live in ignorance of the trials and tribulations of black individuals in their town and of the realities of poverty, discrimination, and racially-motivated violence. They also neglect to see the hypocrisy in praising Everrett while condemning Atticus, two men who are more or less trying to do similar work in supporting underserved populations. 

Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The hypocrisy of these women is revealed through their conversations during the meeting of their Missionary Circle. They profess to be Christians doing good works, but their words and attitudes show that they are deeply racist and hateful. They commiserate over the poor conditions among the Mrunas, a tribe of people of color who live far away from them, but they have no compassion for their own black neighbors. Helen Robinson, whose husband has been convicted of a crime he clearly did not commit, is criticized among them, and Mrs. Merriweather resents paying her hired help a very minimal wage for a week of hard work. These women also sit in Atticus's house, eating his food, and feel free to criticize him indirectly for representing Tom. There is no love, understanding, or compassion among these "Christian" women in their church meeting. They are hypocrites.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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