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The "nightmare that was upon us" is how Scout describes, in Ch. 15, the events that led up to Atticus' confrontation with the townsmen while he was protecting Tom in jail. For the first time, Scout and Jem witness the hatred of the mob and the horrors of racism, and see their father in a vulnerable, and perhaps deadly, position.
Just to add a couple thoughts to the previous answer, the nightmare could also be how the family is now thrust front and center into the debate surrounding the trail. Since Atticus is flying in face of Maycomb's normal social conventions, simply lynching Tom Robinson and attaining mob justice, he is bringing down all kinds of trouble on to his family. This can range from simple insults and dirty looks all the way up to the revenge Bob Ewell seeks on Atticus and his children.
the nightmare as i would say that is upon the children is that the mob scares and frightens them as they see atticus defend tom robison
To Kill a Mockingbird, is one of the most beloved works of literature. Harper Lee has such a way of putting you right there in the middle of the story.
There are a few different meanings of what the nightmare is to the children. In this part of the book, several things are taking place. The trial of Tom Robinson is all the town can think or talk about. The people of Maycomb are so ready to find the man guilty. Atticus is trying hard to keep all of the hatred away from Jem and Scout. When the mob approaches the jail, Jem, Scout and Dill are afraid for Atticus. This is the first time they had seen their neighbors act this way. It is also a nightmare for them to learn the attitude of the people against a black man. Jem and Scout are losing the innocence they once took for granted. The other nightmare for the two of them is what they have to endure with Mr. Ewell. Their lives are almost taken away from them, if it weren't for Boo.
The nightmare for Jem and Scout, unfortunately is reality. Atticus can't save them from the harsh realities of the world. All he can do is be the best influence on them and teach them how to treat people, which is exactly what he does.
This is when the children see the hatred held within the town and the scary mobs that the others do protesting the case Atticus takes up, it is scaring them. They never realized how scary and hateful the townspeople actually were, but seeing this new form helped them realize the hatred and racial prejudices concealed with the town.
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