What does Miss Maudie mean: "But sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whiskey bottle in the hand of oh, of your father"?Chapter 5 of To Kill a Mockingbird

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Miss Maudie's remark to the children in Chapter 5 of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird refers to the fundamentalists-the "foot-washers," who drive past her place castigating her for her abundant flowers.  According to Miss Maudie, the foot-washers thought that she spent too much time outdoors and not enough inside the house reading the Bible.

When Scout remarks that Miss Maudie is the "best lady" she knows, and wonders why Mr. Arthur does not come outside, too, if he were "hankerin' after heaven," Miss Maudie interjects that Scout is too young to understand.  But, some people take things to extremes, thus making something intended as good into evil.  By taking the Bible literally people misuse scripture and sometimes make it fit their own twisted intentions.  This perversion of the words of the Bible is worse than whisky in Atticus's possession--it does more harm.  For, they take the word of God and make it serve their purposes; for example, the "foot-washers" think that women are a sin by definition, Miss Maudie says.  Taking the Bible literally, these people see all women as Eves and other people as threats, possibly.  Arthur Radley is kept inside the house because Nathan Radley, Arthur's guardian and brother, does not allow him to go outdoors.

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poetrymfa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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In Chapter Five of To Kill a Mockingbird, Miss Maudie Atkinson--a widow and talented gardener--tells Scout about Boo Radley, who she claims is still alive and who is simply a victim of a "foot-washing" Baptist upbringing. Scout inquires what this means and Miss Maudie explains that "foot-washers" believe that any pursuit of pleasure is a sin, giving the example of the group of religious fanatics who had claimed that Miss Maudie and her flowers were going to hell. Although she has no idea why Arthur Radley has kept Boo hidden away in the house, she believes that his religious convictions have something to do with it. 

Miss Maudie then explains that, "sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse that a whiskey bottle in the hand of--oh, of your father." Scout protests that her father doesn't drink. Miss Maudie then clarifies that there are "some kind of men... who're so busy worrying about the next world they've never learned to live in this one." 

What Miss Maudie is getting at here is that extremism--even of such theoretically "good" things as the Bible--is dangerous and can lead to terrible outcomes. The "good" text of a Bible in the hands of a "foot washer" is worst than the "bad" presence of alcohol in the hand of a good man like Atticus. 

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