To Kill a Mockingbird
It is now the middle of August and Scout is suffering through another of Aunt Alexandra's
attempts to turn her into a young lady. Dressed in her pink Sunday-best dress, Scout
is helping her aunt play hostess to a tea for the ladies of the missionary aid society. The ladies gush with sympathy for the plight of the poor people of Africa,
but in the next breath they make unkind remarks about their own servants and criticize
Atticus for trying to save Tom Robinson.
In the middle of the tea, Atticus arrives home unexpectedly. Out in the kitchen,
where the guests cannot hear him, he tells Alexandra and Scout some bad news: Tom
Robinson has been killed trying to escape from prison.
The ending of the chapter is a bit surprising. Alexandra is genuinely upset by the
news, yet insists that she and Scout go back to entertain the guests, and carry on
as if nothing had happened.
The satire in this chapter is pretty obvious. Scout, who has no desire
to be transformed into a little lady in any case, finds it easy to see
through the hypocrisy and shallowness of her aunt's friends. And she reacts
badly to Alexandra's insistence that they continue the tea- even though
that is, after all, a variation of Atticus' philosophy of carrying on
whatever the circumstances. In this case, however, the line between courage
and putting up a false front is a fine one. You will have to decide for
yourself whether Aunt Alexandra showed good manners, or whether the missionary
society ladies might have learned something in the long run from seeing
the family's reaction to Tom Robinson's fate.
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