In chapter 15 of To Kill a Mockingbird, why does the group at the jail disperse after Scout's conversation with Mr. Cunningham? What does this show about mob psychology?

In chapter 15 of To Kill a Mockingbird, the group at the jail disperses after Scout's conversation with Mr. Cunningham because her presence allows Walter to exercise perspective and sympathize with Atticus's difficult situation. This shows that mob psychology can be broken when individuals appeal to each other on a personal level and demonstrate their humanity.

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In chapter 15 of To Kill a Mockingbird, the group at the jail disperses after Scout's conversation with Mr. Cunningham because they are embarrassed to take the action that they contemplate in front of Scout and the other children.

Scout is very young. Unlike Jem , she does...

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In chapter 15 of To Kill a Mockingbird, the group at the jail disperses after Scout's conversation with Mr. Cunningham because they are embarrassed to take the action that they contemplate in front of Scout and the other children.

Scout is very young. Unlike Jem, she does not understand what the mob of men is doing at the jailhouse. She does not realize that they mean to confront Atticus and harm Tom. Her lack of understanding is evident by her demeanor.

She views the gathering with the excitement that only a small child would. She believes that it is some sort of social gathering, and she rushes in to share in the fun. When she sees Mr. Cunningham, she greets him in an open, childlike, and friendly manner. She reminds him that she and his son Walter are classmates. “Hey, Mr. Cunningham,” she yells to him and repeats when he does not respond. She then reminds him,

Don’t you remember me, Mr. Cunningham? I’m Jean Louise Finch. You brought us some hickory nuts one time, remember?... I go to school with Walter…He’s your boy, ain’t he? Ain’t he, sir?

At the mention of his son’s name, he begins to look at Scout differently, seeing her as an individual and as a little girl. For a moment, he is uncertain of how to behave. He listens to her rambling on and on inanely about Walter and his family's legal issues that Atticus is helping to solve. At first, he is “impassive,” but he begins to realize how innocent Scout and the other children are. He reaches down and takes her by the shoulders, saying that he will pass along her greetings to Walter. He then tells the other men to disperse.

The reader does not for a moment believe that the mob has changed its view of Tom’s guilt or of how to handle things. However, Scout's innocent candor brings the men out of the collective thinking and causes Mr. Cunningham—and presumably the others—to think like individuals, like the family men and fathers that they are.

What this shows about mob psychology is that if people appeal to one another as individuals, it can cause the person on the other side of the confrontation to respond as an individual and break the me-too thinking of the mob, at least temporarily.

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In chapter 15, Atticus is surrounded by a lynch mob outside of the Maycomb jailhouse as his children watch him from a distance. When Atticus refuses to leave, Scout becomes curious and runs out into the group of men. Atticus and the Old Sarum bunch are stunned by Scout's arrival, and she feels embarrassed standing in the middle of a group of strangers. As Scout looks at the men surrounding them, she notices Mr. Cunningham and attempts to start a casual conversation with him. Scout is too naive and innocent to understand the gravity of the situation and proceeds to talk about Walter's son. However, Mr. Cunningham purposely ignores her and remains focused on making Atticus leave the jailhouse.

Jem and Dill also follow Scout out of their hiding spot, and Jem refuses to leave his father's side. Eventually, Walter Cunningham views the situation from Atticus's perspective, acknowledges Scout, and instructs the mob to disperse. In chapter 16, Atticus gives his children a lesson on mob mentality and explains that Scout was able to connect with Walter as an individual, which made him reconsider his actions.

Walter's transformation proves that mob mentality can be broken when individuals appeal to one another on a personal level and demonstrate their humanity. Scout was able to engage Mr. Cunningham as an individual, which influenced him to view the situation from Atticus's perspective and stand in his shoes. By acknowledging Scout and exercising perspective, Mr. Cunningham expresses sympathy and instructs the mob to disperse without harming anybody.

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From a distance, Scout is unable to see the faces of the men that have gathered around her father in front of the jail. When she runs into the circle of men, she still believes the men are strangers. However, she eventually recognizes Walter Cunningham and begins an attempt at conversation with him. As she does her best to have a polite conversation, Scout becomes aware that all of the men are looking at her. Just as Scout begins to feel uncomfortable about all of the attention, Mr. Cunningham squats down in front of her. He takes her by the shoulders and speaks kindly to her. He informs her that he'll tell his son that Scout said, "hey."

Although Scout is unaware of what she has done, it is through her attention to an individual in the mob that she is able to diffuse the situation. Her focus on Mr. Cunningham and discussion of personal topics causes Mr. Cunningham to rethink his plans. He informs the other men to go home. The group disperses because instead of remaining a mob with mob mentality, the men once again become individuals.

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This riveting scene in Chapter 15 is developed through strong dramatic irony. We know that the group of men who confront Atticus at the jail is a lynch mob that has come for Tom Robinson. Scout, however, does not understand the danger of the situation as it unfolds. When she innocently places herself in the middle of it, she sees not a group of potential murderers but a neighbor she recognizes, Walter Cunningham. Scout talks to Mr. Cunningham as the family friend she believes him to be, persisting until he must finally acknowledge her. Scout reminds Mr. Cunningham of who he really is--a father and someone whom Atticus has helped. When he begins to think as an individual, Cunningham himself disperses the mob. The facelessness and lack of personal responsibility that make up the psychology of a mob is destroyed by Scout's personal interaction with Cunningham. Atticus later explains the nature of mob psychology to his children:

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 . . . . you children last night made Walter Cunningham stand in my shoes for a minute. That was enough.

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The mob dispersed after Scout's conversation with Mr. Cunningham because it ceased to be just a mob.  It became a collection of individuals, each of whom was recognizable.

Mr. Cunningham's safety was in anonymity.   To the mob mentality, an action taken by a mob is less reprehensible than the same act taken by an individual.  Thus, when Scout treated Mr. Cunningham as an individual, she destroyed the mob.    No one person in it was then safe from being taken out of the mob and being made a unique person.

Mr. Cunningham was identified as a family man, a father.    This was quite different from what he was doing in connection with the mob.  Personal diginity and virtue can be more easily set aside within the anonymity of a mob.  These were brought back to Mr. Cunningham by Scout.

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