In Chapter 26 of "To Kill A Mockingbird," Miss Gates gives a lesson on Hitler, saying that Americans “don’t believe in persecuting anybody.” What’s ironic about her statement?

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huntress | College Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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This scene provides a remarkable juxtaposition with the events of the rest of Lee's novel, in which a black man, Tom Robinson, is prosecuted and convicted for a crime he could not have committed. Scout is in class and Cecil Jacobs delivers his current event information about Hitler. The children ask why the government can let Hitler do that, and Miss Gates says that Hitler is the government. In contrast, we live in a democracy, and does anyone know what a democracy is? Scout responds: "Equal rights for all, special privileges for none" (281). Miss Gates goes on to say, "Over here, we don't believe in persecuting anybody. Persecution comes from people who are prejudiced." 

Of course, the American South at this time is riddled with prejudice against blacks, and the townspeople have made their condemnation of Atticus's defense of Tom Robinson clear for months now. They have made a false distinction between the kind of prejudice Hitler has inspired against the Jews in his own country--because Jews are white--and the prejudice the people of Maycomb act upon every day. 

The irony--the contradiction between Miss Gates' condemnation of such behavior in the midst of similar behavior, which she appears to not notice--serves to emphasize how wrong racism and bigotry is. 

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