In To Kill a Mockingbird, why does Atticus wake Jem and Scout the night of the fire instead of letting them sleep through it?
Chapter 8 of To Kill a Mockingbird is quite an eventful one. First, it snows for the first time ever and the kids attempt to build a snowman. Then, that same night, Miss Maudie's house catches on fire across the street from the Finch's home. Atticus could have risked letting the kids sleep through the episode, but what if they would have woken up while he was out there trying to help Maudie? Scout could have panicked and run out into the street looking for Atticus without Jem. If she couldn't find him, she could have gotten in the way of the fire truck and the neighbors trying to help. The worse case scenario is one of the children running around in a panic and getting too close to the fire and getting hurt. Fortunately, Atticus controlled the situation as follows:
"Now listen, both of you. Go down and stand in front of the Radley Place. Keep out of the way, do you hear? See which way the wind's blowing? . . . Do as I tell you. Run now. Take care of Scout, you hear? Don't let her out of your sight" (69).
With these instructions explicitly set forth from their father, the kids understood where to stand to stay out of the way of danger. (It's possible the wind had been blowing embers towards the Finch house.) Also, as Atticus went over to help Maudie, he would know exactly where to look for his kids to keep an eye on them. He wouldn't have to worry about where his kids were and if they were hurt or panicking.