Hypocrisy in “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee

An essay exploring the them of "hypocrisy" in the book "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee.

*note: page numbers given vary depending on the publisher or edition of the book

In the book To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee, Jem and Scout are exposed to much hypocrisy, including the judgments Ms. Caroline made about what was going on in the war, Lula’s not allowing Jem and Scout into the black church, Aunt Alexandra’s view of the Cunningham’s, and the beliefs held by the white women in the missionary circle meeting that Aunt Alexandra hosts. Ironically, the adults, who should be role models to Jem and Scout, are the ones who are most guilty of this hypocrisy.

            Even Scout’s teacher, Ms. Caroline is guilty of hypocrisy. Towards the beginning of the book, Miss Caroline, talks about how horrible it is that the Nazis treat the Jews so badly, while in her own town, a similar behavior is displayed against blacks. However, she fails to address or even acknowledge that there are any racial issues in her own town, and only recognizes the racist actions of the Nazis. She displays this ignorance and hypocrisy in the presence of Scout and all of her young classmates despite being the teacher.     

            Scout and Jem are also exposed to some degree of hypocrisy from the black community, which shows that even oppressed people can be guilty of ignorance. When Calpurnia brings Jem and Scout with her to her black church, Lula, one of the black churchgoers becomes inflamed with the notion of having people who are the color of her oppressors, or whites in her church. She tells Calpurnia, “You ain’t got no business bringin’ white chillun here—they got their church, we got our’n” (158). It takes the intervention of many of the other black people to let Jem and Scout in, and for the most part, they are warmly welcomed. The hypocrisy of Lula’s refusal to allow whites in her church, no doubt was an awakening experience for Jem and Scout because the only black person they really knew, Calpurnia, was a role model to them, and a very just person. Witnessing Lula’s ignorance and hypocrisy firsthand displayed to Jem and Scout that their notions of how black people are, being that they are role models, were not necessarily correct.

            The circumstances of Aunt Alexandra’s hypocrisy are quite unique, as she appoints herself as a role model, guide and teacher for Scout, to influence her into to becoming a “proper woman”. Her hypocrisy was displayed in her view of the Cunningham’s and family. When Scout asks Aunt Alexandra about the lunatic behavior of Cousin Joshua, a relative of the Finch’s, Aunt Alexandra defends him fiercely, even though he had tried to shoot the president. She later explains that no matter what, you should be loyal to and stick up for your family. However, later in the novel, when Scout asks about playing with Walter Cunningham and having him over for dinner, Aunt Alexandra adamantly refuses, claiming that she wants nothing to do with him and his family because they are low class and poor. She goes on to say, “The fact is, he [Walter Cunningham] is not kin to us, but if he were, my answer would be the same” (224). One moment Aunt Alexandra maintains that one must always stick up for family, but the next she claims that she would want nothing to do with the Cunningham’s, even if they were family. The hypocrisy in this scenario points to the fact that she only believes in family pride when she likes the person, or if it helps her prove a point. This contradiction was no doubt confusing to Scout, who had been taught conflicting ideas from the grown woman who had appointed herself as Scout’s mentor.

            Another way Scout was exposed to hypocrisy through Aunt Alexandra was the missionary circle meeting, which was hosted by Aunt Alexandra. Scout, with nothing better to do as Jem and Dill were off playing, decides to sit in and watch the meeting. In the meeting, one of the women, Mrs. Merriweather praises the actions of J. Grimes Everett for helping the “poor, Godless” Mrunas, a tribe in Africa. She calls Everett a saint, saying that “Not a white person will go near them [the Mrunas] but that saintly J. Grimes Everett” (230), and she describes in great and horrific detail, the “terrible” and “un-Christian” living conditions that the Mrunas tolerate. She obviously pities them excessively, and urges the other women in the missionary group to help Everett with his efforts. However, only several comments later, she begins to criticize the blacks in Maycomb, telling the other women that “…there’s nothing more distracting than a sulky darky… Just ruins your day to have one of ‘em in your kitchen” (232). I find this to be one of the most striking examples of hypocrisy in the novel. She pities the blacks in Africa, yet she has ill feelings towards the blacks who live around her. This kind of contradictory logic coming from an adult would definitely cause Scout some degree of wonder or confusion.           

Overall, Jem and Scout are exposed to hypocrisy from many people, including Lula, Ms. Caroline, Aunt Alexandra, and Mrs. Merriweather. It is ironic that the people that are the adults who either are role models, or are associated with being role models, are the ones most guilty of hypocrisy.  

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