Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

Start Free Trial

What is hypocritical about Miss Gates' remarks about Hitler, Jews, and the United States in To Kill a Mockingbird?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Mrs. Gates' hypocrisy is introduced in Chapter 26, during a lesson on Current Events.  In class, Cecil Jacobs gives an overview of Hitler's treatment of the Jews: "Well anyway, Hitler's started a program to round up all the half-Jews too and he wants to register 'em in case they might wanta cause him any trouble and I think this is a bad thing and that's my current event."

When asked how Hitler could do such a thing, Miss Gates seems delighted at the opportunity to explain the difference between a dictatorship and democracy. Yet it's also a chance for her to expose her own hypocrisy. "Over here we don't believe in persecuting anybody.  Persecution comes from people who are prejudiced." In response to Cecil's question about why the Jews are persecuted--(here Dill includes the ironic comment, "They're white, ain't they"?)--Miss Gates adds that the Jews' persecution since the beginning of time is "one of the most terrible stories in history."

Scout muses over this, thinking that Hitler should probably be the one put in a pen.  But something else troubles her:  "There was something else wrong--I would ask my father about it." She approaches Atticus tentatively and asks whether it's right to hate Hitler or not, also mentioning how angry Miss Gates got about Hitler.  Yet she is unable to proceed with her question, uncertain that she could put her feelings into words for Atticus.

Instead, Scout goes to Jem because he "understood school things better than Atticus."  When she mentions to Jem that Miss Gates hated Hitler a lot, Jem cannot at first comprehend her point, until she recounts something she overheard on the courthouse steps.

Here Scout gets to the heart of her confusion: she mentions that she observed Miss Gates and Miss Stephanie Crawford making hateful remarks (it is clear that the remarks refer to the Negroes in Maycomb).  "I '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 wonders aloud how a person can hate Hitler then "turn around and be ugly about folks right at home--." Neatly pointing out Miss Gates' hypocrisy this way makes Jem so furious that he grabs her and warns her never to talk about the courthouse again.  Surprised, Scout retires to the comfort of Atticus' arms.  Atticus knows that Jem is "having a rough time these days," that is he "trying hard to forget something...storing it away for awhile" until he could understand it better.  We know that it's the trial he is trying to forget.

The contrast in the siblings' behavior can be owed to their ages: while young Scout has merely perceived Miss Gates' hypocrisy, Jem has the maturity not only to understand it, but to let it move him to fury.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

That silly Miss Gates! She tries to tell that children that what Hitler is doing to those poor Jews is terrible. The current event discussion gets tripped up on the words prosecuting/persecuting. These two are very significant under the circumstances because one means to convict people of their crimes, the other means to treat injustly because of race or religion. She claims Hitler's persecution of Jews is not right but Scout caught her persecuting blacks walking out of church on Sunday. What a hypocrite.

She tried to change the discussion to glorify our great democracy, and denounce Hitler's dictatorship. This further encourages the reader to consider and wonder if our democracy is all that great if we don't practice "all men are created equal" in our everyday happenings.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Scout's teacher, Miss Gates, takes Adolph Hitler to task during class one day, but afterward Scout begins to wonder about her true feelings about racism. Miss Gates tells the class that "there are no better people in the world than the Jews" and wonders aloud why Hitler doesn't think so, too. However, Scout remembers a conversation she had overheard outside the courthouse between Miss Gates and Miss Stephanie Crawford. Miss Gates told Miss Stephanie that "it's time somebody taught 'em a lesson... the next thing they think they can do is marry us." Miss Gates is talking about Maycomb's Negroes, and Scout wonders how someone can defend a group of people thousands of miles away but feel such hate for people living in her own hometown. Scout recognizes the hypocrisy of Miss Gates' words.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial