What is the significance of the following quote spoken by Atticus from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.What is the significance of Atticus's saying, "...so it took an eight year old child to...

What is the significance of the following quote spoken by Atticus from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

What is the significance of Atticus's saying, "...so it took an eight year old child to bring them to their senses ... that proves something—that a gang of wild animals can be stopped simply because they are humans."

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booboosmoosh's profile pic

booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Harper Lee's novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, after the attempted lynching of Tom Robinson at the jail, Atticus states,

"...so it took an eight year old child to bring them to their senses ... that proves something—that a gang of wild animals can be stopped simply because they are humans."

This, of course, refers to Scout's simple words to Mr. Cunningham about his son. When Scout asks about Walter Cunningham who goes to school with her, Mr. Cunningham, as a member of a group of men acting more like animals than civilized people, is reminded of who he is outside of the mob's mentality. He is a father first, and a good man, who has been caught up in the madness of the mob. Scout's words remind him of his humanity, and in that light, he has not the stomach to continue.

I am reminded of the lines, "...and a little child shall lead them," and "out of the mouths of babes..." Both of these quotations remind us of this reality: children can often see things so much more clearly and objectively because they are not tied up in the complications of adulthood.

Scout does not quite understand why the men have gathered, though Atticus does, and is fearful for the safety of the children. However, Scout's innocent inquiry after Walter brings the energy and intent down a level so that Mr. Cunningham, and others, can act with a collective "cool head." Ultimately, they disperse and go home. As readers maybe we should not really be surprised by what Scout does in her innocence: she is, after all, Atticus' child.

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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When the mob comes before Atticus Finch at the Maycomb jail in Chapter 15 of To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus refuses to release Tom Robinson to them.  Hoping to diffuse the tension that arises, little Scout, who with Jem and Dill has followed Atticus to the jailhouse, notices that the men wear jackets on a warm night, and they have the collars turned up; some have their hats pulled down over their ears, low on their heads.  It is apparent that the men wish to be anonymous, but Scout spots Mr. Cunningham and greets him and talks to him about his son Walter, as well as his "entitlement."  Uncomfortable at being identified, Mr. Cunningham replies reluctantly.  Atticus and Jem watch, agape. Suddenly, all the other men look at Scout; then, Mr. Cunningham squats down and takes Scout by the shoulders, telling her he will pass her message on to Walter.  Straightening up, he says, "Let's get going, boys."

In this episode, Scout has singled out Mr. Cunningham as an individual, and by doing so, she has taken him out of the mob.  In Chapter 16, Atticus reflects upon the incident of the previous night, "Mr. Cunningham was part of a mob last night, but he was still a man."  Scout has appealed to this humanity of Mr. Cunningham and brought him--the "man"--out of the mob--the "gang of wild animals."  Doing so is what has stopped the angry mob from taking Tom Robinson from the jail; this is the significance of this quote about a child.

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