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Mrs. Merriweather is an interesting character; more than anything else, she comes to represent the hypocrisy inherent in many of Maycomb's church-going populace. Her pageant symbolizes a society in denial. In Chapter 24, Mrs. Merriweather agonizes at length about the 'poverty...the darkness...the immorality' of the 'poor Mrunas.' Regarding the Tom Robinson trial, her conclusions are that
"If we just let them know we forgive ‘em, that we’ve forgotten it, then this whole thing’ll blow over."
It never occurs to Mrs. Merriweather that her myopic presuppositions about Tom Robinson are wrong. Like many of her neighbors, Mrs. Merriweather would never entertain the possibility of a black man being innocent in such a trial.
In the novel, 'the most devout lady in Maycomb' has produced a unique pageant entitled Maycomb County: Ad Astra Per Aspera. The title translates as 'from mud to the stars,' or 'hardships lead to future glory.' Indeed, that is how Mrs. Merriweather sees the role of the cultured, white Christian. To endure great trials to bring the gospel to God-forsaken souls is the very epitome of self-sacrifice. Likewise, to 'forgive' Tom Robinson, despite it being a very great trial, is seen as never letting 'an opportunity go by to witness for the Lord.' Mrs. Merriweather treats her servant, Sophy, the same way. It never occurs to her that her shaming lectures are a great trial to Sophy or that Maycomb has just presided over the death of an innocent man. Her hypocrisy and refusal to acknowledge the bias of her bigotry clouds her judgment and colors her interactions with her black neighbors.
Mrs. Merriweather's pageant symbolizes Maycomb's state of denial. Ignoring Maycomb's possible culpability in the execution of an innocent, black man, Mrs. Merriweather chooses to focus on Colonel Maycomb's historical 'efforts to make the region safe for democracy.' The irony is lost on her. Mrs. Merriweather sees no discrepancy between her bigotry and her religious faith.
People up there set ‘em free, but you don’t see ’em settin‘ at the table with ’em. At least we don’t have the deceit to say to ‘em yes you’re as good as we are but stay away from us. Down here we just say you live your way and we’ll live ours.
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