In To Kill a Mockingbird, what is the irony of Miss Gates' lecture on democracy when compared to her comments at the trial?

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gpane | College Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Miss Gates is Scout’s teacher who lectures the class on the evil of Hitler’s regime which persecutes the Jews. She says she can’t understand what the Jews have done that warrants persecution and deplores Hitler for singling out an ethnic group to target and oppress. She virtuously contrasts American society with Germany under Hitler; in America, she says, a free and democratic country, no one is discriminated against.

“Over here we don’t believe in persecuting anybody. Persecution comes from people who are prejudiced. Prejudice,” she enunciated carefully. (chapter 26)

Yet, most ironically, she herself appears to be a wholehearted subscriber to the oppression of African Americans in her own country. Scout recalls the nasty remarks she made about African Americans at Tom Robinson’s trial and asks Jem, ‘how can you hate Hitler so bad and then turn around and be ugly about folks right at home?’ (chapter 26)

Miss Gates, then, is appallingly blind to injustices in her own country while loudly condemning other societies for their prejudices and persecutions. Scout, in her childlike innocence, is honestly bewildered at such inconsistency. Jem is even less able to cope, in fact he explodes in fury at Scout’s question, leaving her ‘too surprised’ even ‘to cry’ (chapter 26); in the immediate aftermath of the trial he cannot bear to think about it. As so often in the book, the ways of adults are here put under the critical lens of the children’s open-hearted, enquiring innocence and revealed to be narrow-minded and irrational.