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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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In To Kill a Mockingbird, what is ironic about the missionary circle's conversation in chapter 24?

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In chapter 24, the missionary circle's conversation is ironic because the women do not live up to their Christian perception and gossip the entire time. Instead of exercising Christian values, the women slander those promoting equality, express their prejudiced opinions, and use racial slurs. They behave like catty elitists, who look down on others and criticize Atticus behind his back. Scout recognizes their hypocrisy and feels extremely uncomfortable in their presence.

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The chief irony concerning the missionary circle's conversation lies in the huge gap between how the ladies of the group see themselves and what they really are. They like to think of themselves as devout Christians, yet in actual fact, the repellant attitudes they express so openly are decidedly un-Christian.

Self-righteous rather than righteous, the ladies of the missionary circle believe themselves to be helping the poor, benighted folk of the Mruna tribe in Africa. Yet in actual fact, they have nothing but contempt for these people and their way of life. They look upon the Mrunas as nothing more than savages desperately in need of salvation.

Like most everyone else in Maycomb, the ladies of the missionary circle are outright racists. As such, they have no compunction expressing hateful opinions about African-Americans such as Tom Robinson, whom they are certain was guilty despite the complete lack of evidence against him.

Their racist antipathy towards Tom is expressed in sharply critical comments towards those who have allegedly been stirring things up. This is obviously a swipe at Atticus for agreeing to defend Tom at his trial.

For good measure, Mrs. Merriweather, a member of the missionary circle, even has the audacity to criticize her maid for being upset at what happened to Tom. In doing so, she's not displaying what many people would regard as a Christian attitude, but rather expressing the prevailing set of commonly-held prejudices.

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When Scout attends her aunt's missionary circle, she recognizes the hypocrisy of the local ladies as they gossip, express their prejudiced beliefs, and talk behind people's backs. One of the leading members of the missionary circle is Mrs. Merriweather, who is considered "the most devout lady in Maycomb" and claims to be a righteous Christian. Instead of exercising grace, tolerance, and sympathy, Mrs. Merriweather reveals her ignorance and prejudice by criticizing the Mrunas culture. She is clearly xenophobic and tells Scout "there’s nothing but sin and squalor" in Africa, which contributes to her narrow-minded depiction.

As the social event continues, Mrs. Merriweather is portrayed as a racist bigot when she refers to Tom Robinson as a "darky" and dismisses the feelings of Maycomb's Black citizens regarding their views on the trial. She even goes as far as to indirectly criticize Atticus in front of his family for promoting racial equality. Fortunately, Miss Maudie comes to Atticus's defense by making a curt remark.

The missionary circle's conversation is ironic because the women do not act like righteous Christians and slander those not present. Scout is mature enough to notice the hypocrisy of the ladies, who claim to be morally upright, Godly women but would rather gossip and criticize others. The women certainly do not live up to their society's name, and Scout feels extremely uncomfortable in their presence. Fortunately, Miss Maudie is there for moral support and helps her get through it.

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The hypocrisy of the Maycomb community is clear in the tea scene in which the missionary ladies discuss the Mrunas and Maycomb. It is quite ironic that people who preach a Christian life do not see how un-Christian they act.

Mrs. Merriweather is the lead hypocrite as she spews nonsense about supporting T. Grimes Everett who is "living in that jungle" with "nothing but sin and squalor." Her eyes tear whenever she talks about the Mrunas, who are oppressed. She says she's going to bring Everett's message to Maycomb and encourages to "forgive and forget." She then brings up Tom Robinson's widow who should "lead a Christian life for those children" and forgive and forget. Next, she complains that black servants were upset after Tom's trial. "You know what I said to my Sophy . . . you simply are not being a Christian today. Jesus Christ never went around grumbling and complaining." Finally, Mrs. Merriweather brings up the "good but misguided people" who think they're helping but are actually hurting Maycomb because "all they did was stir 'em up." Her racist, hypocritical, ignorant remarks finally spark Miss Maudie to speak up: "His food doesn't stick going down, does it?" Mrs. Merriweather is insulting Atticus as she sits in his house and eats his food. She is pretending to be charitable and to feel sorry for the oppressed who live far away, yet she is part of a community that oppresses people.

The irony lies in the discrepancy between people's words and actions. Mrs. Merriweather represents a large group of people who do not recognize that their words and actions conflict. They claim to be Christians, yet they judge and believe they are better than others. They treat black people as inhuman servants, and they cannot see their own faults.

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There are several instances of irony. First, the ladies are a missionary circle--ladies from the church that get together to aid in church activities, plan events and other helpful activities. Instead of doing that, they mostly sit around and gossip and talk poorly of others in the community--not a very "holy" activity.

The ladies begin talking about J. Grimes Everett and how he's helping the poor Mruna tribe over in Africa. The women are supportive of his efforts helping this tribe (whose members are black) halfway across the world, but the ladies think it's disgusting to even think about helping the blacks in their own community.

Mrs. Merriweather says she's upset with her black maid, Sophy, for being sulky and upset after the verdict of Tom's trial. Mrs. Merriweather said she told Sophy to cheer up, the black community had it coming, and if Sophy didn't cheer up, Mrs. Merriweather would fire her. A horrible way to treat someone who has just suffering a blow. Mrs. Merriweather also says she only keeps Sophy around because Sophy needs the money--which probably isn't true. Mrs. Merriweather seems like the type who likes to be waited on.

Lastly, Mrs. Merriweather begins to speak poorly of Atticus and his decision to defend Tom. She has the nerve to do this in Atticus's house, in front of Atticus's sister and daughter, while eating the food Attius's purchased with the money he was paid for defending Tom.

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During Aunt Alexandra's missionary circle, the Christian ladies of Maycomb reveal their hypocrisy, prejudice, and ignorance throughout their conversations. Though the purpose of the missionary circle is to fellowship with other Christian neighbors and discuss J. Grimes Everett's missionary work in Africa, the ladies gossip and ridicule citizens who support the equality of black people.

Mrs. Merriweather is portrayed as an ignorant, prejudiced individual, who lacks insight, sympathy, and discretion. Her negative qualities are ironic, considering that she is described as a "faithful Methodist" and one of the most devout ladies in Maycomb. She criticizes the attitude of her black servants while simultaneously supporting the Jim Crow laws. She also indirectly ridicules Atticus for defending Tom and reveals her cultural prejudice by mentioning that there is nothing but "sin and squalor" in Africa. Mrs. Farrow is also a member of the missionary circle, who believes in the racist idea that no white woman is safe in her bed. Ironically, the supposedly Christian meeting is nothing short of a gossip session, where racist women reveal their hypocrisy and ignorance. 

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The missionary circle's conversation is ironic because the ladies purport to care about Africans but clearly don't care about the Black people in their own town.

In Chapter 24, we get a glimpse into the ladies’ missionary circle. These ladies are supposed to be pious, fellow-man-loving Christians.

Mrs. Merriweather played her voice like an organ; every word she said received its full measure: "The poverty... the darkness... the immorality- nobody but J. Grimes Everett knows. You know, when the church gave me that trip to the camp grounds J. Grimes Everett said to me-" (Ch. 24)

While they talk about feeling sorry for Africans, they ignore the plight of their own servants and neighbors who are African descendants. The Africans are far enough away so that the ladies can feel good about being charitable toward them, while they look down at their own blacks.

This is just another instance of the hypocrisy of the people of Maycomb. The women say that someone needs to get out and help Helen Robinson raise her children as Christians, when it is the town that is victimizing the family and took their father away from them in the first place. They can feel good about themselves and pretend to be missionaries, when in reality they ignore poverty in their own backyard.

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The ladies are condescending and judgmental, pious and gossipy, hardly the appellations one would attribute to true Christian behavior. But above all, they are prejudiced. Ms. Merriweather who Scout says was known as "the most devout lady in Maycomb," has this very unlady-like and unchristian assessement to offer:

"Gertrude, I tell you there's nothing more distracting than a sulky darky. Their mouths go down to here. Just ruins your day to have one of 'em in your kitchen. You know what I said to my Sophy, Gertrude? I said, 'Sophy,' I said, 'you were simply not being a Christian today. Jesus Christ never went around grumbling and complaining,' and you know, it did her good. She took her eyes off that floor and said, "Nome, Miz Merriweather, Jesus never went around grumblin'.' I tell you, Gertrude, you never ought to let an opportunity go by to witness for the Lord."

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The irony here is that the women are bemoaning the situation regarding the "poor" Mruna tribe of Africans while they treat the blacks with disdain.  They want to help the missionary, J. Everett Grimes, who is in Africa working with this tribe. The blacks are a poor people in need of help as long as they are in Africa and not next door.  Harper Lee puts this scene in the story to show the hypocrisy of these women. 

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