Please analyze the coexistence of good and evil in To Kill a Mockingbird.

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the best scenes that shows good and evil coexisting almost in the same breath is in chapter 26, when Scout is in third grade with Miss Gates as her teacher. Cecil Jacobs brings an article about Hitler's treatment of Jews in Germany to share during the current events segment of class. Miss Gates teaches the kids the difference between a democracy and a dictatorship, then says that the Jews contribute to society, so Hitler must be out to get them because they are religious. Cecil then says the following:

"Well I don't know for certain . . . they're supposed to change money or sometin', but that ain't no cause to persecute 'em. They're white, ain't they?" (245).

Miss Gates does not reprimand Cecil for his racist remarks. She doesn't draw attention to the fact that they have the same type of evil persecution going on right in their own town. Scout catches on to this, though, and asks Jem about it later:

"Well, coming out of the courthouse that night Miss Gates . . . was talking with Miss Stephanie Crawford. 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?" (247).

Scout identifies the good and evil in Miss Gates and in her community. Her teacher sticks up for the Jews and feels bad for how much persecution they are experiencing, and then she makes racist remarks about teaching the black community "a lesson." When good and evil coexist, there is usually some hypocrisy in the mix.

Other examples of good and evil coexisting in the story include how good Tom is to Mayella by helping her when she asks him; but as a reward, she gets him into trouble and repays him with evil lies.

Then, in chapter 11, Mrs. Dubose disrespects Atticus's name to his children by calling him evil names, but he tells Jem to be respectful to her. Atticus even praises her for being a courageous lady after she dies because she kicked her morphine habit. Even when Atticus has every reason to hold a grudge, he doesn't.

One more example of good happening alongside evil is when a friendship forms between Boo Radley and the children. They discover gifts in the knothole of the Radley tree and figure that the hole could be a way to communicate with the mystery man. In chapter 7, though, Mr. Nathan Radley fills up the hole with cement and stops the communication, friendship and fun. Just when something good seems to happen, something bad seems to stop it!

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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