How does author Harper Lee demonstrate the following in To Kill a Mockingbird: How has hatred changed its focus throughout time? How do those in positions intended to assist become the enemy?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In To Kill a Mockingbird one way in which author Harper Lee demonstrates that hatred changes its focus over time is by pointing out hypocrisy. One example of hypocrisy is seen during Aunt Alexandra's missionary circle meeting in Chapter 24.

During the meeting, the ladies speak out against the conditions suffered by an African tribe called the Mrunas, who, according to Mrs. Grace Merriweather, live in "nothing but sin and squalor." But, at the same time, they complain about the African-American laborers grumbling about unjust treatment after Tom Robinson's trial. After Mrs. Merriweather speaks about how much the Mrunas need to be saved, she immediately turns to Mrs. Farrow and says the following very racist and hypocritical remark:

Gertrude, I tell you there's nothing more distracting than a sulky darky. Their mouths go down to here. Just ruins your day to have one of 'em in the kitchen. (Ch. 24)

Author Lee uses Mrs. Merriweather's remarks to show that Southern Christians, like the people of Maycomb, are willing to speak of the need to bring Christian aid to Africa while at the same time hypocritically refusing to see the need to give Christian aid to African Americans right their in Maycomb. Their hypocritical attitude shows us that their racist hatred has changed over time so that hatred is no longer applied to those in need in Africa while still being applied to Christian African Americans right there in their own hometown.

Aside from racist hatred making individuals behave hypocritically, Lee shows that racist hatred also makes people in positions of authority behave incorrectly. One example can be seen in the behavior of Sheriff Heck Tate. During his testimony at Tom Robinson's trial, Sheriff Tate states that there was no doubt in his mind Robinson was guilty when he made the arrest, simply because the white Ewells said he was guilty. However, while still on the witness stand, Atticus makes Sheriff Tate realize that Mayella had been bruised on the right side of her face, which would have been impossible for Robinson to accomplish with his crippled left arm and hand; the impossibility of Robinson to have committed the crime means that Sheriff Tate made a wrongful arrest based solely on racist judgement. We see Sheriff Tate begin to realize the wrongfulness of his arrest in the following:

Mr. Tate blinked again, as if something had suddenly been made plain to him. (Ch. 17)

By the end of the book, Sheriff Tate expresses genuine guilt for having made the arrest that cost Robinson his life when he persuades Atticus not to pursue the cause of Bob Ewell's death, the man truly responsible for Robinson's death:

There's a black boy dead for no reason, and the man responsible for it's dead. Let the dead bury the dead this time, Mr. Finch. Let the dead bury the dead. (Ch. 30)

As sheriff of Maycomb, Tate is in a position of power that could enable him to assist the downtrodden like Robinson. However, Sheriff Tate's expression of guilt shows us that he too lets racist hatred cloud his judgement from time to time, thereby making himself one of the enemies of the downtrodden.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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