Discuss the irony of the statement and situation which it describes in To Kill a Mockingbird: "...there followed what I later realized was a sickeningly comic aspect of an unfunny situation: the...

Discuss the irony of the statement and situation which it describes in To Kill a Mockingbird: "...there followed what I later realized was a sickeningly comic aspect of an unfunny situation: the men talked in near-whispers."

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bullgatortail's profile pic

bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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This is truly a surreal scene that unfolds before Scout in front of the jail. Scout does not recognize the seriousness of the moment until many years later, since she does not realize why the man are there in the first place. The two carloads of men are actually a lynch mob who plan to take Tom Robinson from the jail to be hanged. They have dispatched Sheriff Tate on a "snipe hunt," leaving Atticus alone to stand guard over Tom. The men are also willing to hurt Atticus if he tries to stop them. Yet, their respect and admiration for Atticus becomes evident in the "sickeningly comic" but potentially deadly situation: When they demand to know if Tom is inside, Atticus tells them that he is, but that he is sleeping, and Atticus commands them to be quiet.

"Don't wake him up."  (Chapter 15)

And the men, who are there to kill Tom--and possibly kill Atticus, too--immediately do as Atticus tells them.

     In obedience to my father, there followed what I later realized was a sickeningly comic aspect of an unfunny situation: the men talked in near-whispers.  (Chapter 15)

So, the resulting conversation is spoken in whispers so as not to awaken the prisoner who the lynch mob has come to murder.

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beanstalker's profile pic

beanstalker | eNotes Newbie

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Irony is defined as a technique of indicating, as through character or plot development, an intention or attitude opposite to that which is actually or ostensibly stated.  

In the situation young Scout witnesses at the jail that night, the men in the cars ask her father whether Tom Robinson is in the jail.  Atticus affirms that Tom is, in fact, in the jail, but that he's sleeping, and he asks the men to be quiet.  At the time, Scout didn't understand the irony of the situation.  She didn't understand that the men intended to harm Tom Robinson.  She interpreted the exchange between the men and her father in a literal way; her father asked the men to be quiet so they wouldn't wake Tom Robinson.  Out of respect for Atticus, the men then spoke in "near-whispers".

But the narrator is the adult Jean Louise Finch.  Looking back on it, she fully understands the irony - and the gravity of the situation:  A lynch mob communicating with her father in hushed tones to avoid waking the man they intended to lynch.

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