What is ironic about Miss Gates's explanation for why Hitler is able to treat Jews so poorly in Germany in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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Miss Gates says that Hitler can round up Jews because Germany is a dictatorship, but Americans don’t believe in prejudice.

In a demonstration of hypocrisy, people of Maycomb often pity the disenfranchised around the world, while paying no attention to the conditions of the poor African Americans in their community.  Scout’s class has a discussion on current events that includes Cecil’s description of Adolf Hitler’s abuses in Germany.  He is not really old enough to understand what is happening, but he is disturbed by what he does understand.

“Nome, Miss Gates, it says here—well anyway, old Adolf Hitler has been after the Jews and he’s puttin‘ ’em in prisons and he’s taking away all their property and he won’t let any of ‘em out of the country and he’s washin’ all the feebleminded and—” (Ch. 26) 

Cecil informs the class that Hitler has begun rounding up all of the Jews, and one of their classmates asks Miss Gates, “How can he do that?”  She tells them that Hitler is “the government,” and that’s why he can do it.

She tells the class that Germany is a dictatorship, and not a democracy like America.  America is better, she says, because Americans are not prejudiced.

“Over here we don’t believe in persecuting anybody. Persecution comes from people who are prejudiced. Prejudice,” she enunciated carefully. “There are no better people in the world than the Jews, and why Hitler doesn’t think so is a mystery to me.” (Ch. 26)

The irony is that the town demonstrated that it is prejudiced with the Tom Robinson case.  A black man was accused by a white woman, and the town went crazy because Atticus was appointed to defend him.  Then during the trial, the prosecution was based on Robinson's race, while Atticus tried to prove that Tom was innocent and there was no evidence that the crime he was accused of ever occurred. 

The white jury convicted Tom Robinson simply because he was black.  There was no other reason to convict him.  Maycomb demonstrates prejudice against blacks constantly, despite Miss Gates’s proclamation that Americans are not prejudiced like the fascists in Germany.  Scout may have only been in third grade, but she recognized irony and hypocrisy when she heard it.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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