How does Lee use Miss Maudie's conversation with Jem and Scout the morning after the fire to illustrate the theme of racism in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The end of chapter 8 is an interesting and subtle exploration of race and gender.

When the fire destroys Miss Maudie’s house, it comes right after the day it snowed.  Scout and Jem make a snowman caricature of Mr. Avery in the yard using mud (black) and covering it with snow (white).  The snowman is referred to by Scout as a “Morphodite” because she mishears Miss Maudie call it a hermaphrodite (because it was male and they made it female by giving it Miss Maudie’s hat.

Just as the snowman is black with a white shell, Miss Maudie turns out to be white with a black shell.  When Jem sees her hands, they are described in an interesting way.

A network of tiny lines crisscrossed her palms, brown with dirt and dried blood. (ch 8)

Jem notes that she “ruined” her hands, because they are now black.  He then asks her why she did not get a “colored man” to help her with the work.  If the reader did not get the connection between the racism of the snowman and the hands, that line would get him thinking.

By the way, there is no such thing as a "morphodite" in fact.

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