Saturday, 26 November 2011

To Kill A Mockingbird help - Comparing and contrasting the First Purchase Church service and the Ladies’ Missionary Circle.

A great article for any English student studying Harper Lee's 'To Kill A Mockingbird'. Read it all the way through and it will give you some great analysis of some of the symbolism in the book.

To kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is set in Alabama, in the United States, in the 1930s. In this setting it is immediately apparent that society is skewed and that segregation affects all aspects of life. The novel tells the tale of three years in the life of its narrator, Scout Finch. Over the course of the novel Scout discovers many things about the world, and gradually comes to realise the harsh realities of her own society. In the twelfth chapter of the novel, Scout and her brother Jem are taken by the family cook Calpurnia to a Negro church service at the first purchase church. In the twenty fourth chapter, Scout attends a meeting of the ladies’ missionary circle. These two events will be examined in detail in the following essay, with references to the differences between appearance and reality.
The first purchase church was a church exclusively attended by Negroes, this is not because whites people were not ‘allowed’ to enter the church, but because it had become socially unacceptable for a white person to attend a Negro service. It was thus named because it was the first thing on which the freed Negro slaves of the area chose to spend the money they had earned as free men on. When Calpurnia takes Scout and Jem to the first purchase church they are welcomed warmly despite the fact that the Church generally only gave services to Negroes. There was one character Lula, who did not quite follow this trend, but this will be discussed later.
The ladies missionary circle was a group of women who met every few weeks for tea. Their gatherings had originated as a way to support J. Grimes Everett, a missionary working in Africa to take care of the Mrunas, an impoverished tribe undergoing conversion to Christianity. The women of the missionary circle are pretentious, self righteous and duplicitous. They lampoon Scout’s frock and her future. Again, there was one character present, Miss Maudie, who did not share these characteristics, and again this character will be looked at later. 
At a first glimpse, the two gatherings may seem similar: they are both based on religion, they are both regular gatherings and they are both attended by people of exclusively one skin colour. However, the two gatherings are infinitely different in their true nature. The first purchase church gathers for spiritual reasons, to worship god. This is shown by their motto: ‘God is Love,’. The members of the church attend in their best clothes and contribute merrily even though they are crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. This shows how they are inspired and lifted by the worship of god, even when times are bad. The ladies missionary circle on the other hand may appear to be connected with religion but is mainly a social gathering, where women go to each other’s houses drink tea and gossip. The complete lack of spiritualism in these meetings is realised by the women, who try to make them seem less aimless by talking about J. Grimes Everett and his exploits. It is at this point that the hypocrisy of the missionary circle ladies becomes apparent. They say to Scout: ‘You live in a Christian home with Christian folks,’ trying to impose upon her the values of Christianity.  This is a ludicrous statement however, for the conversations about ‘sulky dark(ies)’ and the creation of countless myths and stories which portray people of the county in a bad way both make the ladies thoroughly unchristian in their conduct. They are happy to notionally support the conversion of the ‘heathen’ Mrunas, while they blatantly discriminate against the thoroughly Christian Negroes who live and work around them.
Another difference between the two gatherings is the way the children are treated. The first purchase church may at first appear to be rather exclusive, as only Negroes attend. However, they are glad to welcome Scout and Jem, because of their appreciation of the children’s father: ‘this church has no better friend than your daddy.’ On the other hand the ladies of the missionary circle treat the children rather curtly, mainly because they disapprove of Atticus defending a Negro, something which shows how racist they are, and thus, how hypocritical they are. Miss Crawford mocks the dress that Scout wears, and her future career prospects: ‘Are you going to be a lawyer like your daddy?’ she says maliciously, showing how condescending she is, thinking Scout will not understand that she is actually mocking her.
Another obvious difference is the place of meeting. The first purchase church is shabby and run down, ‘Negroes worshiped in it on Sundays and white men gambled in it on weekdays.” This quotation shows the unofficial and poorly funded nature of the church, perhaps prompting the reader to question the commitment to God of its members. However, the church is in poor condition simply because its members cannot afford to keep its upkeep, the fact that the Negroes let their church host gambling shows not only their desperation and devotion, but the disrespectfulness of the whites. The missionary circle prefers to meet in the comfort of a house, where food and drink is readily available. They do this not only because it is convenient, but also simply because they can, they have large houses with plenty of space and they have significant leisure time.
The very nature of the two gatherings is vastly different. The first purchase church is a close group of people, who value being together to worship God. There is a strong community feel, with all of the members uniting together to help Helen, Tom Robinson’s wife, by donating money to her. This shows the mutual love of the congregation, everyone there is present to worship god and to follow his teachings, in this case: ‘Love thy neighbour.’ The missionary circle is bound together by far weaker bonds. One thing the women who attend have in common is their following of J. Grimes Everett. In actual fact, however, the gathering is of a social clique where membership is defined by colour, class and social attitude. This is demonstrated by the unwillingness of Miss Maudie to attend. The only reason she is involved in the missionary circle is that she is afraid of being ostracised and seen as an outsider.
There are two characters that have thus far been overlooked. Lula was a member of the first purchase church who told Calpurnia to take the children home. She showed the reader that the segregation in society works two ways, as she discriminates against the white children, attempting to deny them access to the church. Miss Maudie was a very wise and kind woman. She did not share in the hypocrisy possessed by the other ladies of the missionary circle. She is a woman of true Christian values, shown by the fact that she shuns the foul mouths of some of the ladies, and refrains from adding to the group’s complaints about their servants. These two characters were most probably added to show the reader that not everything is as black and white as it may seem. There are always those who don’t fit the trend, which is why separating or classifying people by race, skin colour or origin is a bad idea. By adding these characters, Harper Lee adds credibility and realism to her novel, preventing it from becoming a way oversimplified commentary on society.
It is interesting how two meetings, of people from the same area, who worship the same god, can be so very different. On one hand, there is the devoted and deprived, close community of the Negroes, who strive to solve the problems at hand, within their own community (donating money to help Helen.) On the other hand, the hypocritical women of the ladies circle, bickering and divided. They do not act to solve problems, they simply discus problems too big for them to change, and too unrelated to have any effect upon them. This is the result of a society of segregation. A society not only divided into white and black but further subdivided into various classes. This society along with the various personalities of the characters involved creates two very different congregations.

Other To Kill A Mockingbird materials:

An exemplar essay on the 'mad dog incident'
How does Harper Lee bring out different elements of Atticus’s character?

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