Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

Start Free Trial

In To Kill a Mockingbird, what does Miss Gates say about current events and equal rights?

Expert Answers

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

Miss Gates, a teacher in Maycomb's elementary school, is not unlike Mrs. Merriweather of Aunt Alexandra's church group. She is charitable and unbiased when her views are theoretical and do not touch upon anything that will personally affect her. But, if affording others something will compromise or challenge her way of living, then she is biased and less than charitable. Like Mrs. Merriweather, Miss Gates is also hypocritical.

When Miss Gates asks the students to bring in a clipping from the newspaper on a current event, most of the rural children do not have access to a real news journal; instead, they bring "The Grit Paper," which is probably a folksy newsletter about what occurs in the area. But Miss Gates is pleased when Cecil Jacobs reads about the current events in Nazi Germany and Hitler's campaign to "purify" his country by ridding it of those he considers inferior. She uses this article to explain what she considers the difference between the governments of America and of Germany under the rule of the dictator Adolf Hitler. When she asks the class what democracy is, and Scout defines democracy as "Equal rights for all, special privileges for none," Miss Gates compliments Scout on such a good definition. She adds that in America "we don't believe in persecuting anyone."

Apparently, Miss Gates does not realize the parallels between the concept of Aryan "blood purity" and not allowing any Aryan to marry anyone of another race (Jewish or otherwise) and the South's Jim Crow laws against miscegenation. Scout has also overheard her teacher talking to Miss Stephanie Crawford as they came out of the courthouse. Miss Gates said then with strong bias, "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" (chapter 26).

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

In Chapter 26, Scout's class, led by Miss Gates, discusses current events. Since the rural children tend to be too poor to afford the main newspaper, they bring in clips from The Grit Paper. This is filled mostly with local interest stories. It seems that Miss Gates thinks this paper is not newsworthy. 

When Cecil Jacobs does his report on Hitler, Miss Gates sees this as an opportunity to teach the class about the differences between German's dictatorship and American democracy. Scout chimes in, saying democracy is "Equal rights for all, special privileges for none." Miss Gates agrees and then elaborates on the difference between Germany and America: 

"Over here we don’t believe in persecuting anybody. Persecution comes from people who are prejudiced. Prejudice,” she enunciated carefully. 

Miss Gates praises America and is proud to live in a country that doesn't believe in persecuting others. The problem is that she contributes to persecution, thus making her a hypocrite. Scout remembers something she overheard Miss Gates as she was coming out of the courthouse. This is in reference to Tom Robinson's trial: 

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—” 

Miss Gates claims to be a part of a nation that does not persecute but she mocks the supposedly inferior newspaper and, judging from her comments outside the courthouse, she's clearly racist. 

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