In Chapter 16, why does Scout cry after returning home from the jail?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In chapter 15, the children follow Atticus and find him sitting outside of Tom Robinson's cell. Suddenly, the Old Sarum bunch arrives to lynch Tom Robinson and encircles Atticus, who refuses to move out of their way. Scout is unaware of the dangerous situation and instinctively runs into the middle of the group of men. The men are astonished at Scout's presence, and Jem and Dill proceed to follow her out of their hiding spot. Scout immediately recognizes Mr. Cunningham and attempts to have a casual conversation with him. Fortunately, Walter Cunningham sympathizes with Atticus's difficult situation and instructs the mob to leave the scene without harming anyone.

Later that night, Scout crawls into bed and realizes for the first time that she and her family were in an extremely dangerous situation. The entire time that they were surrounded by the mob outside of the jailhouse, Scout was unaware that the drunken men wanted to lynch Tom Robinson and were willing to harm Atticus in order to kill his client. Scout says,

The full meaning of the night’s events hit me and I began crying. Jem was awfully nice about it: for once he didn’t remind me that people nearly nine years old didn’t do things like that (Lee, 157).

Essentially, Scout cries because she is overwhelmed when she recalls the dangerous, traumatic situation that she narrowly escaped.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Scout's words, "The full meaning of the night's events hit me and I began crying."  As she lies in her bed and reflects upon the events of the evening, most disturbing events, Scout realizes the danger in which her Father was placed, only now comprehending the look in Atticus's eyes.  She does not understand the attitude of the townspeople who feel that a white man should only represent a Negro in the most perfunctory manner.  When they learn that Attiucus intends to do his best and bring out the truth, the men march to the jail to threaten Atticus, with "the smell of whiskey and stale pigpen" upon them.  Those strangers into the midst of whom Scout has jumped, she reflects, were not the men she has seen previously.

Scout's weeps for her loss of innocence, the threats on her father, whom she loves dearly, and for the evil in the hearts of men, men that she has thought she recognized.  Hers was a most traumatic experience.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

When Scout, Jem and Dill approached Atticus at the jail as he was confronting the lynch mob, the children didn't fully understand the seriousness of the situation. They were expecting to present Atticus "a fine surprise" with their sudden appearance but, instead, "a flash of plain fear was going out of his eyes." Jem seemed to comprehend that Atticus was in trouble, and he refused to budge. When one of the men grabbed Jem by the collar, Scout responded with a kick, intended "for the shin, but aimed too high." Scout was simply responding to her brother being manhandled, and after order was restored, she still did not understand why the men had come. So, she began a conversation with Mr. Cunningham as if the men had gathered to socialize with Atticus.

Scout began crying after climbing into bed and nearly falling asleep. It suddenly hit her. "The full meaning of the night's events hit me and I began crying." Only then did she realize that Atticus' life had been in danger. She was thankful that "Jem was awfully nice about it" and didn't remind her that she was too old to be crying.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial