The women in the missionary circle are just the sort with whom Aunt Alexandra would associate. They all come from the right families, have the right amount of money, and the right skin color. During their meeting, they praise the recent conversion to Christianity of the Mruna tribe in Africa. They reveal their own sense of self-righteous superiority by lamenting the poor conditions in which the Mrunas live. Even though the Mrunas seem to have a very complex and effective social order, the "ladies" in this circle maintain their condescending attitudes toward other cultures.
Yet this is nothing compared to how they treat their neighbors. They're willing to donate and support efforts to "better" the situation of a tribe in Africa, but they essentially spit on those living near them. They remark that “no lady is safe in her bed these nights”-referring to Tom's alleged crime. Helen Robinson is described as that “darky’s wife,” and it's said that if the white folks can forgive her, everythng can return to normal. They're practically blaming Helen for their own misguided trial against her husband. Mrs. Merriweather also complains about paying her maid, saying that she has been acting "sulky", and that she should be grateful for any money she gets. She also remarks that "misguided people" shouldn't be "stirring them up", referring to Atticus and his defense of Tom. Miss Maudie calls her out on this though, not afraid to reveal the hypocrisy present. She notes that they sit and eat his food, just as happy as you please, even though they're so willing to disparage him.
Miss Gates is Scout's third grade teacher, and she acts a lot like these missionary women. At first, she seems to have very strong feelings about prejudice, discrimination, and injustice. She teaches a lesson on Hitler and his treatment of the Jews, deriding him as evil. She explains that in America, "democracy" doesn't allow for such behavior. Essentially, it keeps everyone safe from undeserved persecution. But Scout knows better. She tells Jem about a conversation she overheard between Miss Gates and Miss Stephanie after the trial. She reports:
I heard her say it's time somebody taught 'em a lesson, they were gettin' way above themselves, an the next thing they think they can do is marry us.
Scout attempts to understand how someone can so vehemently attack Hitler's treatment of European Jews, then turn around and treat her neighbors in the same way. Thus, she is acting like the women of the missionary circle. All of these women support equality and fight prejudice-just not in their own backyard. There, all the ugliness and petty racism floating just below the surface rises and spills out in a flood of hypocrisy.
The members of the missionary society may have meant well, but their backward thinking was typical of the average Maycomb citizen in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. The ladies of the Maycomb Alabama Methodist Episcopal Church South were 100% behind missionary J. Grimes Everett and his efforts to Christianize the Mruna tribe in Africa, where there was "nothing but sin and squalor." However, they cared little for the Negro citizens of their hometown. The righteous women of the circle were upset because Maycomb's Negros were upset. Mrs. Merriweather was particularly troubled.
"... the cooks and field hands are just dissatisfied, but they're settling down now--they grumbled all next day after that trial... I tell you, if my Sophy'd kept it up another day I'd have let her go. It's never entered that wool of hers that the only reason I keep her is because this depression's on and she needs her dollar and a quarter every week she can get it."
Miss Gates' thinking is also askew. She lambasts Adolf Hitler's treatment of the Jews in Germany, but Scout knows that her own personal prejudice doesn't back up her teachings.
... she was talking with Miss Stephanie Crawford. I heard her say it's time somebody taught 'em a lesson, they were gettin' way above themselves, an' the next thing they think they can do is marry us. Jem, how can you hate Hitler so bad an' then turn around and be ugly about folks right at home--"