What is ironic about Mrs. Merriweather's statement about the Mrunas' sense of family in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The uncivilized Mruna tribe in Africa are truly heathens, greatly in need of Christian enlightenment, according to Mrs. Merriweather. Mrs. Merriweather is sympathetic with their plight, and she hopes the missionary, J. Grimes Everett, will be able to provide them with the guidance to lead them out of their "sin and squalor." The Mrunas

... put the women out in huts when their time came... they had no sense of family--... they subjected their children to terrible ordeals when they were thirteen; they were crawling with yaws and earworms, they chewed up and spat out the bark of a tree into a communal pot and then got drunk on it.

What Mrs. Merriweather doesn't seem to realize is that these are longtime traditions of the tribe, and though the Christian women at the Missionary Circle meeting seem horrified at their description, they are but tribal customs that are practiced in a caring manner. Ironically, Mrs. Merriweather shows no concern for the Negroes in her own town, criticizing her maid, Sophy, for "grumbling and complaining," demeaning her and accusing her of being un-Christian-like. She believes that white people who defend and befriend Negroes are hypocrites, and she believes Atticus is "misguided" for agreeing to defend Tom Robinson. Mrs. Merriweather understands neither the Mrunas nor the Negroes, and her "sense of family" only extends to her white church-going friends in Maycomb. 

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter 24, Mrs. Merriweather elaborates on the horrible conditions and family life of the Mrunas tribe in Africa. According to Mrs. Merriweather, the Mrunas tribe lives in sin and squalor. Scout overhears Mrs. Merriweather mention that the Mrunas have no sense of family and subject their children to strange tribal rituals. Mrs. Merriweather then mentions to Scout that she is fortunate to have been raised in a Christian town with Christian values. Mrs. Merriweather's negative comments concerning the Mrunas' sense of family are ironic given the fact that there is extensive prejudice throughout the Christian community of Maycomb. Mrs. Merriweather is an ignorant hypocrite who cannot see the value in foreign cultures. Despite her elaborate criticism of how backward the Mrunas tribe lives, the children growing up in Maycomb are subjected to ugly racism on an everyday basis. In Maycomb, white children are raised to view African Americans as inferior beings. This overt prejudice is much more harmful than the cultural traditions of the Mrunas tribe. 

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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