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The ladies of the Missionary Society in Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird worked themselves into a tither over the conditions of the poor Mrunas, an African tribe that had recently been converted to Christianity. The good ladies fully supported with a sympathetic view their new Christian brothers in Africa, but were quick to hypocritically condemn the highly religious black community in Maycomb for their "uppity" ways after the Tom Robinson trial.
...the cooks and field hands are just dissatisfied, but they're settling down now--they grumbled all next day after that trial.
The ladies were shocked at the purported living conditions of the Mrunas, but turned a blind eye to the poverty that existed among the blacks in their own town. They were critical of the recent behavior of many of Maycomb's blacks, escpecially Mrs. Merriweather:
...sulky... disatisfied... I tell you if my Sophy'd kept it up another day I'd have let her go. It's never entered that wool of hers that the only reason I keep her is because of this depression's on and she needs her dollar and a quarter every week she can get it.
Miss Maudie took exception to the hypocrisy, however.
His food doesn't stick going down, does it?
(Interestingly, the Mrunas were a fictitious tribe that Harper Lee originated in the novel.)
The irony of the way the women of the Missionary Society feel about the members of the African Mruna tribe is that they show deep compassion for dark-skinned people who live on the other side of the world but almost no concern for their dark-skinned neighbors who live in Maycomb. Mrs. Merriweather's "eyes always filled with tears when she considered the oppressed," but when her black household employee, Sophy, shows her dissatisfaction with the travesty of justice Tom Robinson has just endured, Mrs. Merriweather says, "There's nothing more distracting than a sulky darky." Rather than sympathize with the oppression that is occurring in her own community, she focuses on the inconvenience she must endure.
Mrs. Merriweather considers J. Grimes Everett, the missionary, to be "saintly" because he dares to go into the jungle and live with black people. Yet, although she obviously considers herself to be a fine example of Christianity, she points out how she would never mingle socially with the black people in her own community. She berates "Mrs. Roosevelt" for "coming down to Birmingham and tryin' to sit with 'em." So it is ironic and hypocritical for her to idolize Everett for doing in Africa what she maligns Mrs. Roosevelt for doing in Birmingham.
Another irony is Mrs. Merriweather's observation to Scout that she lives "in a Christian home with Christian folks in a Christian town." Among the Mruna, she insists, "there's nothing but sin and squalor." Yet the way the Ewells live could certainly be described as sin and squalor. In contrast, the black people who attend the black church, including the Robinson family, are much more moral and Christian than the Ewells. In fact, Scout assumes that the suggestion to go "help her lead a Christian life" was referring to Mayella Ewell, but in fact Mrs. Merriweather was referring to Mrs. Robinson. Ironically, Scout, a child, is correct: Mayella Ewell is more in need of instruction in Christianity than Mrs. Robinson is.
The Missionary Society meeting is highly ironic, revealing that the women's racial prejudices completely overshadow their Christianity.
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