Chapter twenty-four of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is important to the novel because it demonstrates the hypocrisy of the town, particularly the women of Maycomb.
One of the hypocrisies in this chapter is that the missionary society has gathered at the Finches, the home of the man so many of the women so despise (Atticus Finch) because he had the nerve to give Tom Robinson, a black man, a legitimate chance to be found innocent--because he is. Mrs. Merriweather is talking in veiled terms (hinting at it without really saying it) that Atticus is doing nothing but stirring up trouble in town, and Miss Maudie sarcastically jumps to his defense by asking:
"His food doesn't stick going down, does it?"
Of course the woman does not really get it, but we (the readers) do. Mrs. Merriweather, representing all of these presumably religious women, is a hypocrite.
Another hypocrisy demonstrated by the women at this tea is their outrage at the outrage their black servants are displaying after the Robinson trial. They are quick to say that these people should not be so upset about the outcome of the trial, talking about them as if they are nothing but surly, pouty children. In fact, Mrs. Merriweather (the greatest--or at least most outspoken--hypocrite of the bunch) finally kind of excuses their behavior by reminding everyone that black people are all just born with such immoral characteristics and therefore they cannot be changed.
The primary hypocrisy in this chapter, however, is the entire cause for which the missionary ladies are having this tea. They are gathered to hear an update about J. Everett Grimes and his work with the Mruna tribe--a tribe of black people who, they hope and pray, will convert to Christianity. This is, of course, a direct contradiction to the women's views of the blacks here in Maycomb. More importantly, these women demonstrate all kinds of compassion for these black people halfway around the world but are unable to show any compassion at all to the black people who work for them in their own homes and who have a just cause for being unhappy.
Ultimately, this chapter does serve to move the plot of the novel along in several ways, including the relationship among the Finch women and the news about Tom Robinson's death; however, the author mostly uses this chapter reveals the hypocrisy of the town in yet another way, and perhaps in a way which requires us to examine our own attitudes about such things.
For more interesting discussion and helpful insights on this subject and this novel, see the excellent eNotes links I have attached below for you.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee issues forth as a classic novel for many reasons. Chapter 24 is not action packed but is filled with many of the concepts that Lee would like the reader to understand.
Chapter 24 provides an excellent example of the "the biased thinking” in the 1930s in the deep south. During the tea party, Mrs. Grace Merriweather serves as the foil for Atticus and the lack of prejudice that lives in his house. Mrs. Merriweather indicates that Atticus should never have defended Tom Robinson. When he was found guilty, according to this pious lady, the Negroes acted differently. Mrs. Merriweather, looking down on the black people from her high class southern societal platform, would help the Africans but never concern herself with her own maid Sophy, Robinson’s family, or the white trash Ewell family.
Mrs. Merriweather's large brown eyes always filled with tears when she considered the oppressed. "Living in that jungle with nobody but J. Grimes Everett," she said. "Not a white person'll go near 'em but that saintly J. Grimes Everett."Grimes Everett."
While Atticus talks about seeing things through other people's eyes, Mrs. Merriweather is more concerned with people seeing it through her eyes. Her insistence that the African-Americans need to be forgiven (for what?) shows that Mrs. Merriweather's compassion is so one-sided as to be hardly compassionate at all.
This chapter teaches that charity should begin at home. Atticus’s appearance and his show of grief about the murder of Tom Robinson reinforce the differences between Atticus who values a person’s life not the color and Mrs. Merriweather who does not understand that she should show concern for the citizens of her own hometown.
To add to the morality lesson for Scout, Atticus explains to his daughter that no one can understand why a person behaves the way that he does until he walks around in the other person’s shoes. This foreshadows the incident with Bo at the end of the story. Mrs. Merriweather, who represents the middle upper class of most of the towns in the deep south, believes that charity does not begin at home but rather in the dark continent. Even Scout picks up on the lady’s lack of logic in her diatribe.
What are the purposes of Chapter 24?
- To show that Scout is growing up and will become the daughter equal to her great father
- To demonstrate the prejudice toward those who are black or different
- To illustrate one of the primary concepts of the book: Don’t judge someone until you have walked around in their shoes
- To let the reader know that Tom Robinson has been killed
- To present a different side of Aunt Alexandra
Harper Lee includes this chapter at this crucial juncture in the novel to give the reader a clearer idea about the times the novel is set in. As the missionary ladies gather for tea, Scout is invited to join them, where she witnesses firsthand the prejudice that her father has tried to veer her away from. That the primary discussion is about an African tribe that is being converted to Christianity speaks to the group's superiority, and that they address in the same breath Tom Robinson's trial and the change that has brought about in their 'servants' speaks to the larger battle that Atticus is trying to fight, lest his children be exposed to racial bigotry and prejudice.
In a sense, it's the author's lens zooming out to offer a more holistic look at the story's landscape to inform the reader's understanding of the gravity of the situation as also Atticus's ideals.