How does the book To Kill a Mockingbird show hypocrisy?

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The theme of hypocrisy is developed in relation to racial prejudice and religious extremism. Miss Maudie is explaining the hypocrisy inherent in religious extremism when she talks to Scout about Boo Radley's father, whom Maudie characterizes as "a foot-washing Baptist." When Scout tries to reconcile God's love with some of the behavior she has seen and heard about, Maudie stops her and her voice takes on an edge. Maudie is angry about matters of which Scout has no knowledge, specifically the abuse Boo Radley has experienced at the hands of his extremely religious father:

You are too young to understand it . . . but sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whiskey bottle in the hand of--oh, of your father . . . . if Atticus Finch drank until he was drunk he wouldn't be as hard as some men are at their best. There are just some kind of men who--who're so busy worrying about the next world they've never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.

The idea of religious hypocrisy is developed again in the meeting of Alexandra's missionary circle. After speaking of "Christian homes," "Christian folks," and their "Christian town," the ladies fall into a virulent, hate-filled, racist discussion of Maycomb's black citizens, also managing to criticize Atticus, though not by name, for his "misguided" attempt to help. Their failure to recognize their own hypocrisy is similar to that of Miss Gates', Scout's teacher. Miss Gates loves democracy and utterly deplores that a group of people (Jews) could be so terribly persecuted. She is, however, both a racist and a hypocrite, as Scout realized:

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-- 

Scout may not know the word for what she tries to express, but she knows hypocrisy when she witnesses it.


mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It shows hypocrisy through some of its characters.

1. Bob Ewell.  This man is the lowest scum of the earth, who beats his children, is a drunkard, is racist and ignorant, and yet he claims to be better than a decent, hard-working, family-oriented man with total integrity and morals.  He gets up on the witness stand like "a little bantam cock" (proud, strutting rooster) and proceeds to claim the moral high-ground on Tom Robinson, all the while lying through his teeth and doing a poor job of covering up his more base qualities.  Bob Ewell is a hypocrite at best, and an immoral, evil man at worst.

2.  Miss Merriweather is a hypocrite; at the missionary meeting she gets all weepy-eyed and soft-hearted at the thought of the poor Mrunas in their deplorable situation, yet does nothing more than that-put on a show of sympathy.  And nearly in the same breath she turns around to bad-mouth the black people in her own neighborhood, people who also have a deplorable situation that she could actually do something about, but instead, she declares to the black people, "you live your way and we'll live ours."  She is a hypocrite because she touts righteousness and charity, but does not act on it when situations right in front of her arise.

3.  Walter Cunningham and the mob gang.  While Walter Cunningham isn't one of the worst characters in the book, he does display hypocrisy as he goes about his everyday business living a moral, upright life, but when it comes down to granting a black man kindness and equal treatment, he goes for the pitchfork.  Scout recognizes him in the mob that come for Tom at the jail, and talks to him, which brings a bit of his hypocrisy to the spotlight, and it actually shames him into leaving.  So that is a good sign for him; he recognized how ridiculous and hypocritical it must have seemed for him to be riling up a crowd to cause harm to a good man, but to go about his normal life with decency and morals that he was trying to instill in his children.

jess1999 | Student

For me, hypocrisy in the book shows up when the townsfolk are concerned about the welfare and treatment of people from other towns or even countries, when they themselves are unable to realize that they hold these prejudice themselves. One example occurs in Ch 26, where Miss Gates complains to her class on how Adolf Hitler was a mad man, and later on laments on how Jews were being persecuted since the beginning of history. Basically, she was teaching the class to never persecute anyone. Now, the irony is during the trial of Tom Robinson. Scout mentions that she overheard Miss Gates exclaim that "it's time somebody taught 'em a lesson, they were gettin' way about themselves, an' the next thing they think they can do is marry us" (ch 26) Without even realizing it herself, Miss Gates holds prejudice towards other races.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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