In To Kill a Mockingbird, what is the irony between the missionary circle and Tom Robinson's death?

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The ladies of the Missionary Circle, especially Mrs. Merriweather, see themselves as "good Christians" as they commiserate over the poor plight of the Mrunas, a native people who live in a jungle somewhere far from Maycomb. They have no compassion, however, for the plight of their own neighbors who suffer, neighbors such as Tom Robinson and his family. There is no Christian sympathy for them. They view Tom's trial and conviction as a personal inconvenience that has upset the African-American community in Maycomb. Mrs. Merriweather expressed their opinion:

. . . the cooks and field hands are just dissatisfied, but they're settling down now--they grumbled all next day after that trial.

The ladies of the missionary circle are so set in their racism they are totally unaware of their cruel hypocrisy. Atticus, however, understands that the tragedy of Tom's death will be meaningless to most of Maycomb, just as it was to the prison guards that shot him seventeen times:

What was one Negro, more or less, among two hundred of 'em? He wasn't Tom to them, he was an escaping prisoner.

To the ladies of the Missionary Circle, Tom wasn't Tom, either. He was just another "Negro" whose death would affect them not at all. 

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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