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As Atticus explains to Jem on the morning after they had dispersed the lynch mob,
"A mob's always made up of people, no matter what. Mr. Cunningham was part of a mob last night, but he was still a man. Every mob in every little Southern town is always made up of people you know--"
Atticus's presence alone would probably not have been enough to prevent the group from taking Tom from the jail (the unseen Mr. Underwood and his shotgun standing guard above may have made a difference, however), but the appearance of the innocent young children did make a difference. Scout's simple conversation with Mr. Cunningham--about his entailment problems and about his son, Walter Jr.--shamed Cunningham enough to order his friends away. Perhaps they thought better of their intentions, or maybe they just weren't willing to take such murderous actions in front of the children, but Scout's words were able to break down the barriers between a mob mentality and individual human thought. Cunningham--the man--separated himself from the mob and made a personal decision to leave justice in the hands of the jury.
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