What is the significance of Miss Gates' lesson on democracy in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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missy575 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This lesson is significant because of when it occurs in the story, and the example that she tries to use to help define democracy.

First, this lesson occurs after the trial is over and after Scout has noticed Miss Gates' apparent prejudice against the Negro community. Scout overheard some of Miss Gates comments about the Negroes when walking down the stairs out of the courthouse that day of the trial.

Second, Miss Gates lets Scout define democracy and then uses the non-example of Germany. In expressing what Germany does through Hitler, Miss Gates actually described what Scout had seen her do to the local Negro people.

In front of DEMOCRACY, she printed WE ARE A. "Now class, say it all together, 'We are a democracy'."

We said it. Then Miss Gates said, "That's the difference between America and Germany. We are a democracy and Germany is a dictatorship.

“Dictator-ship,” she said. "Over here we don't believe in persecuting anybody. Persecution comes from people who are prejudiced. Pre-judice," 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."

In this passage, we see Miss Gates lesson on democracy prove how inept the American south was at applying the tenants of democracy at the time in which Lee wrote.


gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The significance of Miss Gates's lesson on democracy concerns her hypocritical perspective and the fact that not all Americans have equal rights. After Cecil Jacobs discusses Hitler's persecution of the Jews in Europe, Miss Gates begins to discuss the differences between Germany and America. Miss Gates mentions that America is a democracy and compares it to Germany's dictatorship, which is ruled by Adolf Hitler. Scout raises her hand and defines democracy as "Equal rights for all, special privileges for none" (Lee, 249). Miss Gates proceeds to say that in Germany they persecute Jewish citizens while Americans do not believe in persecuting anybody. She goes on to say that persecution comes from people who are prejudiced. That night, Scout begins to question Miss Gates's lesson and recalls overhearing her make racist comments about black people while leaving the courtroom. Scout takes note of Miss Gates's hypocritical statement regarding prejudice in America and realizes that America is not a true democracy because not everyone has equal rights. Black people are discriminated against and are forced to abide by unjust Jim Crow laws in the South.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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