In her lesson on Hitler, Miss Gates says, "We [American people] don't believe in persecuting anyone." What seems odd to the reader about this claim?
It is strange that Miss Gates should make this statement since the trial of Tom Robinson makes it patently clear that the Americans at the time were more than intent on persecuting him, irrespective of the fact that all the evidence Atticus had presented to the court proved his innocence.
Her comments later further prove the point that there was an overwhelming prejudice against African Americans and the indigenous people of the country. Further proof of the desire to persecute was the lynch mob set up by the townspeople to execute Tom before the trial. It was Atticus' intervention which did not entirely prevent, but delayed Tom's persecution.
The court proceedings were a sham and were only conducted to create the impression that justice was being served. It was clear that Tom Robinson had done no wrong, yet the court found him guilty. He was persecuted for the sole reason that he was African American. The true criminals were the Ewells, who had committed crimes and all sorts of misdemeanours for generations, yet the good folk of Maycomb county had turned a blind eye to their misdeeds.
The opinions of Miss Gates smack of hypocrisy and a haughtiness which was the norm amongst many white inhabitants of the time. The attitude was one of superiority. An example of this is Tom's declaration in court that he had felt sorry for Mayella. This was an abomination to the whites - how dare a black man feel sorry for a white person? It was an insult to their notion of superiority and, instead of Tom's act of kindness being appreciated, it was deemed an evil and his statement counted against him.
African Americans were defenseless and had very little chance of prevailing in the type of kangaroo justice that was dispensed at the time.
In chapter 26, Scout is in the third grade. Miss Gates, the teacher, asks the students to bring in an article about a current event. Cecil Jacobs brings in an article out the persecution of Jews by Hitler and the Nazi party. Scout sits back and listens as Miss Gates teaches the class about the difference between a democracy and a dictatorship. It's verbal irony at its best when Miss Gates says that Americans "don't believe in persecuting anybody. Persecution comes from people who are prejudiced" (245). This is verbal irony because Miss Gates proved herself to be prejudiced just a couple of months before on the steps of the courthouse after the Tom Robinson trial. Scout explains her confusion to Jem after school that day:
"I heard her say 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. Jem how can you hate Hitler so bad an' then turn around and be ugly about folks right at home—" (247).
The reader might feel the same way Scout does because the black community faces prejudice every day in Maycomb. For Miss Gates not to see it would mean that she's completely blind, uneducated, or a pure hypocrite.
It is odd that Miss Gates made such a statement because the trial and conviction have made evident the existence and power of persecution in the United States and, specifically, in Maycomb. It is also odd that Miss Gates declared that Americans don't believe in persecution, because she revealed herself (although she didn't realize it) as a hypocrite; during a conversation with Jem, Scout states that, while standing on the courthouse steps following Tom Robinson's trial, she overheard Miss Gates tell Miss Stephanie Crawford 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" (pg. 249 in my copy). This sentiment makes clear Miss Gates's own prejudice toward African-Americans. By claiming that Americans "don't believe in persecuting anyone," Miss Gates was not only lying, but also revealing her hypocrisy and misunderstanding of the truth.