What does this quote mean in Chapter 24?
“His food doesn't stick going down, does it”
Great question--when I teach this book, I get a lot of questions on this quote.
Mrs. Merriweather has just subtly (well, somewhat subtly) insulted Atticus. Miss Maudie responds with the above quote. There are two interpretations I give to my students.
1. Miss Maudie is referring to Mrs. Merriweather eating Atticus's food. Mrs. Merriweather is is Atticus's house, eating Atticus's food, in front of Atticus's sister and daughter and others that respect him. Miss Maudie's come back is asking Mrs. Merriweather (snidely) if Atticus's food is good enough to eat, even though Mrs. Merriweather insults Atticus.
2. The other explanation is that Miss Maudie is referring to Atticus eating food. Atticus knows he did the right thing, defending Tiom, and therefore, doesn't have a troubled conscience, so he can doing things freely, without feeling guilty--such as eating.
A bit of context will help you understand this line. In chapter 24, the missionary society is at Atticus's house. Aunt Alexandra has invited them. During this meeting they talk about the Mrunas tribe of Africa. They also talk about Tom Robinson's trial. In particular, they mention that their own black servants are acting poorly on account of Tom's trial. The women intimate that they disapprove of Atticus taking on the case. There is no surprise here, as most of the town is against Atticus on this one.
Miss Maudie is perturbed to say the least. There is where the quote comes in.
Miss Maudie is shaming the women. They are very hypocritical. They are in Atticus's house and judging him. Moreover, they are explicitly Christian in their faith (they are actually a missionary society), yet they cannot see their own sins!
Miss Maudie cannot tolerate the hypocrisy, and so she speaks these words. Here is Scout's impression:
To Kill A Mockingbird
“Maudie, I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” said Mrs. Merriweather. “I’m sure you do,” Miss Maudie said shortly.
She said no more. When Miss Maudie was angry her brevity was icy. Something had made her deeply angry, and her gray eyes were as cold as her voice. Mrs. Merriweather reddened, glanced at me, and looked away. I could not see Mrs. Farrow.