In To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, why did Mr B B Underwood choose not to intervene outside the jail on that night of the lynch mob?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The question, why did Mr. Underwood choose not to intervene during the stand-off outside the jail between the angry, racist mob and Atticus, only partially represents the facts of the scene in Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockinbird.  While Underwood did keep his presence at the jail that day hidden until the crisis had been peaceably resolved, Lee makes very clear that the editor of the town newspaper was very much present, and very much partisan in his position.  After the lynch mob had departed, Tom Robinson, speaking from his cell, asks Atticus, "They gone?"  After Atticus replies that the mob had indeed disbanded, he reassures his client that he is now safe.  At his point, another voice is heard, that of Mr. Underwood:  "You're damn tootin' they won't [bother Tom again].  Had you covered all the time Atticus."  As Scout describes the scene:

"Mr. Underwood and a double-barreled shotgun were leaning out his window above the Maycomb Tribune office."

B.B. Underwood is a racist; about that, there is no doubt.  In discussing the newspaper editor with his children, Atticus states, "He [Underwood] despises Negroes, won't have one near him."  As the story progresses, though, and as Lee has Atticus explain, individuals are complex and racist attitudes, no matter how reprehensible, don't always tell the whole story of a man's nature.  Mr. Underwood is a man of deeply-held convictions regarding the sanctity of life.  In his own way, he is a humanitarian, and can't countenance the murder of disabled human being.  Disinterested in the outcome of the sham trial of Tom for allegedly raping a white girl, Underwood does, nevertheless, find highly objectionable Tom's later killing while in custody.  As Scout describes Underwood's mentality, 

"Mr. Underwood didn't talk about miscarriages of justice, he was writing so children could understand.  Mr. Underwood simply figured it was a sin to kill cripples . . .He likened Tom's death to the senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters and children."

Underwood is a complicated individual.  He is not the paragon of virtue that resides within Atticus Finch, but neither is he lacking in a moral compass.  His stance at the jail that night was testament to his commitment to see the proper path to justice be taken.  A lynch mob most definitely did not represent the proper path.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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