Who are the Mrunas, and what themes do they support in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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In Chapter 24, the Mrunas (at least, that's what their name sounded like to Scout) are the topic of discussion for Alexandra's missionary circle as they meet in Scout's living room. According to Mrs. Merriweather's report, the Mrunas are non-Caucasian natives who live in huts, lead squalid lives, abuse their children, suffer disease, and practice disgusting customs. When Scout asks Mrs. Merriweather what the missionary circle ladies had studied that afternoon, Mrs. Merriweather (the most devout Christian in Maycomb) explained:

Oh child, those poor Mrunas . . . . Living in that jungle with nobody but [missionary] J. Grimes Everett . . . Not a white person'll go near 'em but that saintly J. Grimes Everett.

Mrs. Merriweather's ignorance and arrogance are obvious and become even more pronounced when she moves on to the subject of Helen Robinson, whose husband Tom has just been convicted of a crime he didn't commit and who has been shot to death in prison. In discussing Helen and the other black citizens of Maycomb, Mrs. Merriweather also reveals her hateful racism and hypocrisy. She thinks the "darkies" will settle down if they know that the white people have "forgiven" them (of what she does not specify):

If we just let them know we forgive 'em, that we've forgotten it, then this whole thing'll blow over.

Mrs. Merriweather had become tearful when she talked about the "poor Mrunas"  because "her large brown eyes always filled with tears when she considered the oppressed." But she had no tears for Tom Robinson, his widow, his family, or any other black person who suffered in her own community. Because of ignorance, arrogance, racism, and hypocrisy, neither Mrs. Merriweather nor any of the other ladies in her missionary circle could recognize the oppression that occurred every day in Maycomb, and they did not recognize themselves as oppressors, which they certainly were. This scene with the missionary circle, therefore, emphasizes several of the novel's themes.

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