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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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Why is Scout surprised that her teacher hates Hitler? How is Miss Gates similar in this regard to the ladies in the missionary circle from chapter 24?

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The question refers to the "missionary circle" of ladies in Ch. 24 of To Kill a Mockingbird, while the incident with Scout considering her teacher's hatred of Adolf Hitler comes in Ch. 26.  Both of these come after the celebrated trial of Tom Robinson and the guilty verdict handed down by the jury.

In the trial, Scout's father Atticus Finch presents a strong defense of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white girl.  Although the evidence all seems to point to Tom's innocence, the racial stereotypes and distrust are still so strong that the jury issues a guilty verdict.

In Ch. 24, the ladies' missionary circle gets together, and Scout is there to witness their discussion.  She sees them talk about being "good Christians" and talk about how they want to support missionary activities, and yet their actual speech betrays hatred and bigotry.  They tell Scout she is lucky to "live in a Christian home with Christian folks in a Christian town."  But then they refer to Tom Robinson as a "darky," and they cannot understand why the other blacks in town were "dissatisfied" and "grumbled" after the verdict.  The whole conversation lumps the black residents of Maycomb into one group and stereotypes them all.

Jumping ahead to Ch. 26, Scout learns from her teacher that Hitler's actions in Europe were evil.  Her confusion, though, is summed up in something she says at the end of the chapter: 

Well, coming out of the courthouse that night Miss Gates was -- she was goin' down the steps in front of us, you musta not seen her -- she was talking with Miss Stephanie Crawford.  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 --

Scout is confused because she sees individual people as individuals, not as stereotyped members of racial groups.  And she does not understand Miss Gates hypocrisy, speaking one way about blacks after the trial, but then another way about Hitler.  Miss Gates' comment that "it's time somebody taught 'em a lesson" sounds very much like the stereotypes of the ladies in the missionary circle.


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