Why do the men turn and leave at the end of Chapter 15 of To Kill a Mockingbird?

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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The two carloads of men who arrive at the jail to confront Atticus are bent on lynching Tom Robinson, but they soon change their minds. It is obvious that they respect Atticus: When Atticus demands that they stop being so loud--"... he's asleep. Don't wake him up"--the men continue their conversation in "near-whispers." But Atticus alone would not have been able to stop the men. It is the arrival of the three children--Dill, Scout and Jem--who stop the men in their tracks. When Scout recognizes Mr. Cunningham, she begins an innocent conversation with him about school, entailments, and Cunningham's son, Walter Jr. By the time Scout has finished, the men are silent. Then, Cunningham, the leader of the group,

... did a peculiar thing. He squatted down and took me by both shoulders.
     "I'll tell him you said hey, little lady," he said.
     Then he straightened and waved a big paw. "Let's clear out," he called. "Let's get going, boys."
... Doors slammed, engines coughed, and they were gone.

Scout's little talk had shamed Cunningham, and he knew that he could not carry out his murderous act--at least not in the company of children.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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