In To Kill a Mockingbird, Miss Gates says in her lesson on Hitler that "we (the American people) don't believe in persecuting anyone". What seems odd about this claim?

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gmuss25 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Chapter 25, Scout's third-grade teacher compares America to Germany during a Current Events activity. Miss Gates makes a hypocritical statement by saying that in America, we don't believe in persecuting people. She goes on to say that persecution comes from people who are prejudiced and implies that prejudice does not exist in America. However, Scout immediately recognizes Miss Gates's hypocrisy. Scout remembers how Miss Gates made several derogatory remarks about African Americans to Miss Stephanie while she was leaving the courthouse. Scout even asks her brother how Miss Gates can hate Hilter for persecuting the Jews, but feels perfectly comfortable treating African Americans with contempt in her own community. Miss Gates's comment and actions reveal her hypocrisy and ignorance. To claim that there is no prejudice in 1930s America, while African Americans are being treated as second-class citizens with fewer rights than white people, is utterly ridiculous and ignorant.  

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gpane | College Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Miss Gates is Scout's teacher in third grade. We see her in chapter 26, telling the class about the atrocities being committed by Hitler against the Jews. She appears morally outraged by this, yet is blind to the fact that black people face persecution of a similar kind in her own country, as Tom Robinson's trial has amply demonstrated. Racial prejudice against African Americans makes nonsense of Miss Gates's claim that there is no persecution in America.

Indeed, Miss Gates shows by her remarks following Tom Robinson's conviction that she strongly approves of the persecution of black Americans. Scout tells Jem she heard her say that

'it’s time somebody taught ‘em a lesson, they were gettin’ way above themselves, an’ the next thing they think they can do is marry us.'

Scout is frankly puzzled by Miss Gates' double standards:

'Jem, how can you hate Hitler so bad and then turn around and be ugly about folks right at home?'

Scout is still too young to understand just how hypocritical some people can be, and Jem's furious reaction to her question shows that following Tom Robinson's trial he is unable to cope with such injustice and prejudice. However, both Scout and Jem learn to deal better with perplexing adult behaviour as they grow older.

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