To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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Why did Cunningham and the other men go to the jail, then what convinces Cunningham to tell the other men to leave?

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In chapter 15, Atticus sits outside of Tom Robinson's jail cell as the Old Sarum bunch arrives from the northern part of the county to lynch Tom before the trail. Jem and the children follow their father to the Maycomb jailhouse and watch as the Cunningham family surrounds Atticus. Scout, who does not understand the gravity of the situation, becomes curious and runs out into the middle of the group of men. Scout becomes embarrassed and begins to search for a familiar face.

Fortunately, Scout recognizes Mr. Cunningham, Walter Jr.'s father, and mentions that she goes to school with his son. However, Walter Cunningham refuses to respond to Scout, who begins to talk about his entailment. Eventually, Mr. Cunningham is able to view the situation from Atticus's perspective and finally acknowledges Scout. Mr. Cunningham realizes that Atticus is in a precarious situation and sympathizes with him. Walter Cunningham then tells the Old Sarum bunch to leave and the mob disperses. If it wasn't for Scout's presence, Atticus may have not been able to prevent the mob from lynching Tom Robinson. 

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The men go to the jail because they want to lynch Tom Robinson -- to kill him rather than letting him go on trial.  This was something that Southern whites did relatively often to black men who were accused of sexually molesting white women in the early 1900s.

What convinces Cunningham to leave is that Scout talks to him and asks him about the case that Atticus is working on for him.  When she does this, she reminds him that he is an individual rather than just part of a mob.  He realizes that what they are doing is wrong when he has to think about it rather than just doing what everyone else is doing.

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mkcapen1 | Student

Lynching black men who "supposedly" raped a white woman was a common practice in the south and seldom led to any consequences for those who perpetrated it.  Mr. Cunningham and the men with him were in a mob frenzy and had talked themselves into the idea of hanging Tom Robinson.  Atticus had been concerned that they might take such an action and with the sheriff unavailable he had decided to monitor Tom's safety.

Mr. Cunningham changed his actions after Scout started talking abut his son being her classmate.  Scout brought a sense of reality back into his head and caused him to dissipate the mob of men.  In her anger at the men grabbing Jem and handling him harshly Scout had seen Mr. Cunningham and she questioned him if he knew who she was.  She could not understand how someone who was supposed to be their friend could behave in such a manner.


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