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To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee




One evening after dinner a group of men, led by Sheriff Tate and the wealthy planter Link Deas, come to the door asking Atticus to step outside and talk to them. Waiting inside the darkened house, Jem and Scout are sure that a mob has come to harm their father. From snatches of conversation they know that the talk is about Tom Robinson, and they overhear Link warning Atticus that he has "everything to lose" because of his decision to defend Tom. Finally, unable to stand by any longer, Jem calls his father to come inside and answer the telephone. The men realize that this is just a ploy to get Atticus back in the house, and laugh. Atticus later reassures the children that the men were friendly.

The next morning, Sunday, Jem and Scout learn what the men had come to discuss: Tom Robinson has been moved to the town jail. When Atticus is missing from the house that night the children realize that he must have gone to stand guard at the jail in order to protect Tom from a lynch mob. Accompanied by Dill, the children go into town to make sure Atticus is all right. Just as they arrive at the jail, a group of men pull up in their cars and gather around the jail door. Scout, thinking that these are the same men who came around to talk to her father the night before, rushes to hear the conversation.

Too late, she realizes that these are not the same friendly men she saw the previous evening. Jem and Dill, who come running up after Scout, realize that they have blundered into a dangerous situation. Even Atticus is frightened by the possibility that the mob will harm his children. But Scout's immediate reaction is embarrassment; by not sizing up the situation at once she has shown herself to be nothing but a naive child.

When one of the men grabs Jem roughly by the collar, Scout's shame changes to anger. She lashes out and kicks the man in the groin. Then recognizing one of the men in the mob, Scout starts to engage him in nervous conversation. The man is Walter Cunningham, father of the Cunningham boy in Scout's class at school. "How's your entailment gettin' along?" Scout asks, reminding Mr. Cunningham in front of everyone that Atticus has helped him with legal problems. Scout goes on to talk about young Walter, and how she and Jem once invited him to lunch when the boy had nothing to eat. The mob has come to kill Tom Robinson, and is perfectly prepared to murder Atticus as well if he stands in their way. But Scout's friendliness shames Mr. Cunningham back to his senses. He leaves the jail, convincing the other men to come with him.

Atticus later comments that the incident at the jail was a demonstration of mob psychology. People in a group, he says, will do things that are unworthy of them as individuals. By singling out Mr. Cunningham, Scout made him start acting as an individual again, not just another face in the mob. Atticus is certainly right in saying that groups can be a bad influence. Once again, however, some of you may wonder whether his faith in the basic goodness of individuals is justified.

As Atticus and the children are leaving the jail, a voice calls out to them through the darkness. It is Mr. Underwood, editor of the local newspaper. Mr. Underwood shouts that he had the mob covered all along with his shotgun. The men could not have kidnapped Tom Robinson from the jail even if they had tried.

Scout finds herself amazed by the complexity of human nature. Everyone in Maycomb knows that Mr. Underwood does not like black people. But he is devoted to the abstract concepts of justice and fair play.  


ECC [To Kill a Mockingbird Contents] []

© Copyright 1985 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
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