What insights does Scout gain through her experience of the second Missionary Circle?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Scout, who must act like a little lady named Jean Louise, experiences the pretensions and hypocrisy of the ladies of Maycomb as they come to the Missionary Tea. So ceremonial is this occasion that Calpurnia is not allowed to bake the teacakes and Scout must wear a pretty dress with a petticoat; even Calpurnia wears "her stiffest starched apron."

When Scout first hears the ladies talking, it is not of dainty things. Mrs. Grace Merriweather provides the others with a report of the Mrunas, as Scout hears the name. Theirs are squalid lives and they do all sorts of disgusting things, subjecting children to "terrible ordeals" when they turn thirteen; the people are covered with parasites and they all spit into a communal pot, then drink from it. However, none of this distasteful talk bothers the ladies' sensibilities as just as Mrs. Merriweather finishes her report, the ladies adjourn for refreshments. After Scout carries in the heavy silver pitcher that is an heirloom, she sits with the ladies who "smell heavenly." Miss Stephanie asks Scout what she wants to be after they all have had a delighted laugh at Scout's reply to Miss Maudie's asking where her "britches" are today and Scout says, "under my dress." The laughter continues as Miss Stephanie teases Scout while Miss Maudie holds her hand warmly in alliance against the ridicule.

After speaking again of the poor, unfortunate Mrunas thousands of miles away, Miss Merriweather has some rather uncharitable things to say about Helen Robinson and the other African Americans in their town who are "sulky" and should appreciate that they "forgive them." Still, they are worried that they are "not safe at night" because "they" are "stirred up." Blame goes to some of the "well-meaning" but "misguided" folks. Mrs. Merriweather complains that her maid is "sulky" and she only keeps her on out of the kindness of her heart. It is then that Miss Maudie makes a cryptic remark which quiets Mrs. Merriweather, and Scout sees Auntie give Miss Maudie a look of gratitude.

Rather confused by this "world of women," Scout nevertheless perceives the pretensions of those such as Mrs. Merriwether who is concerned about the deprived on the other side of the world, but who would throw out her own maid. From the look on Aunt Alexandra's face, Scout deduces that she has not liked the "well-meaning, but misguided" comment. Certainly, Scout apprehends that appearances are deceiving with women, and that some of these "charitable" women are not so charitable after all, especially toward her father for having defended Tom Robinson and "stirred up" the black folks in town.

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