Atticus has been facing threats and warnings due to his defense of Tom Robinson in this particular section of the novel. It is in this scene that a heated argument arises, revealing a portion of the town’s genuine sentiments and biases.
In chapter 15, Jem and Scout witness Atticus sitting outside Macomb jail, where Tom Robinson is located, reading a newspaper. Along with Dill, they sneak out and secretly follow Atticus to the town center, where Maycomb jail stands. At that moment, four cars drive into Maycomb and park near the jail. A group of men emerge from these cars and demand that Atticus step aside from the jail door to provide them access to Tom Robinson. Despite their appeals, Atticus stands firm, prompting Scout to intervene in an attempt to assist her father. Jem and Dill quickly follow suit. Atticus believes that the children’s involvement would not be beneficial and could potentially result in harm, so he attempts to persuade them to return home.
According to Harper Lee, one of the men warns Atticus to get his children out of there within fifteen seconds before a brawl erupts. Lee describes how Scout and Jem are unfamiliar with these men. However, Scout spots Mr. Cunningham in the crowd and engages in a polite and innocent conversation with him. Despite Scout’s attempts, Mr. Cunningham remains unresponsive, causing her to question if he recognizes her. She brings up his son, Walter, and asks Mr. Cunningham to convey her greetings to him. Surprisingly, Mr. Cunningham proceeds to order the crowd to disperse. I believe this is because he is reminded of his moral conscience, realizing that his actions are unjust. This incident showcases Scout’s politeness and good intentions towards Mr. Cunningham, ultimately leading him to feel guilty about being part of the mob. Atticus explains that even a group of savage beings can be stopped because they are still human. This suggests that Scout’s innocence exposes Mr. Cunningham’s participation in the prejudiced and wrongful act despite being a father himself.
During this episode, Scout unwittingly disperses the mob by her naive and pure nature. Her actions prompt the mob members to empathize with Atticus and comprehend his motives for defending Tom Robinson. By dismantling the mob mentality, Scout prompts each man to think independently instead of being swayed by the influence of a large group. This enables the men to gain insight into the situation and shed any prejudiced judgments they may have held.
In this episode, Atticus demonstrates his bravery and courage. Initially, he remains outside Tom Robinson’s cell throughout the entire night, in solitude. Furthermore, when confronted by a mob, despite knowing their collective strength surpasses his own, Atticus remains unaffected and does not exhibit any anxiety. His intention is to avoid showing any sign of weakness that could empower them further. Simultaneously, he endeavors to shield both his children and Tom Robinson from any harm. This exhibition of kindness and valor exemplifies Atticus’ character.