Chapter 15 Summary and Analysis
This chapter opens on a dark note, with Heck Tate and several other men showing up outside the Finch house to tell Atticus that there might be trouble when Tom is moved to the town jail. These men don't intend to hurt Tom themselves, but give Atticus an ominous warning that he could lose everything because of this case. Atticus doesn't think so and turns his back on the other men with complete confidence, though Jem and Scout, watching from inside the house, are terrified. Jem's lie about the phone ringing breaks the tension outside and causes the group to scatter.
Inside, Jem asks Atticus if those men were part of a gang like the Ku Klux Klan. Atticus explains (somewhat erroneously) that the KKK is gone and is never coming back, then tells the kids not to worry, because those men were still their friends and neighbors. The next day, Sunday, these men approach Atticus again outside church, but Scout and Jem don't hear what they say. After church, the kids bum around, bored out of their minds, and then settle in for a lazy evening when to their surprise Atticus announces that he's going out and takes an extension cord with him. Curious, the Finch children fetch Dill, who's still staying at Miss Rachel's, and follow Atticus into town. They find him sitting outside the jailhouse, reading the newspaper.
Soon after the children find Atticus, a mob approaches him, intending no doubt to lynch Tom. To Scout's dismay, these men are strangers hailing from Old Sarum, and though they're related to the Cunninghams, they have no reason to refrain from hurting Atticus. Scout jumping in between the mob and Atticus shames them enough for them to stop, particularly after Scout kicks one of them in the groin and calls out Mr. Cunningham (Walter's father) for having legal troubles; because of this, the men shuffle off, leaving Atticus and the kids alone.
Before they go home, Tom calls down to thank Atticus for protecting him. Then Mr. Underwood reveals that he has been watching all along, holding his loaded shotgun at the ready in case there was any real trouble and he needed to defend Atticus.
Gothic Architecture. An architectural style popular in the late medieval period and characterized by the use of pointed arches, ribbed vaults, and flying buttresses, which were built in a comically small scale inside the jailhouse, which consists of only two cells. The Gothic style is meant to make it seem foreboding and sinister, but its size turns it into a joke.
Henry W. Grady (1850 - 1889). A journalist who helped reintegrate the Confederacy into the Union following the Civil War. His stance as a white supremacist complicates Atticus's seeming admiration for him, making the fact that he forces Jem to read Grady's work very questionable.
Ku Klux Klan. A hate group often referred to as the KKK or, simply, the Klan. It was first founded in the 1800s, around the time of the Civil War, but didn't gain momentum until the early 1900s, when they first began burning crosses and organizing mass parades to assert their white supremacist beliefs. The traditional image of a Klan member is that of a man draped in a white sheet with a pointed hat on top. Atticus erroneously says that the Klan is dead, but in fact it still exists today, and the kids are right to be afraid that the Klan will intervene in Tom's trial (even though they don't, in the end).
Fear. Up until the moment Scout jumps into the circle of men, all the fear in this chapter belongs to the children: fear that Atticus is in trouble, fear that trial the will destroy him, fear that the men won't let him go home. Once Scout shows up, however, the fear shifts to Atticus, who worries that both she and Jem will get hurt if this turns into a fight. In this, we see that Atticus's only vulnerability is his children and that he has been trying to keep them safe by keeping them away from the trial and any discussion of it. Unfortunately, he won't be able to protect them from everything.
Light vs. Dark. Traditionally, "light" and the color white are associated with goodness or purity, while "dark" and the color black are associated with evil. However, given the racially charged subject matter of the novel, Lee avoids associating black with evil and instead focuses on how light is associated with goodness, education, and enlightenment. When Atticus sits alone in the light of that one bulb, he appears to be an oasis of morality and rationality.
Manners. In this chapter, Scout misinterprets Atticus's lessons in manners to humorous effect, dropping the subject of Walter Cunningham because Atticus told her it was impolite to make people talk about things only you're interested in talking about. Scout stops asking Mr. Cunningham about his son, reverting to her first line of questioning: his entailment. Needless to say, Mr. Cunningham doesn't want to talk about this, either.
Racism. This is the first chapter in the novel where Maycomb's racism is directly linked to violence. Thus far, it has mostly been a sociological phenomenon affecting the way people think while dictating where they can and cannot live. Here, that racism shows its violent potential for the first time and prepares the reader for what lies ahead in Tom Robinson's trial.
Safety. In a poignant reversal of roles, Atticus, who previously defended his children from the rabid Tim Johnson, himself has to be defended from the mob by Scout, who jumps in front of him to be his human shield. This emphasizes the fact that Atticus can't protect his children from all of the bad things in the world and that pretty soon they'll have to face something they might not yet be able to understand.
Shame. Once again, the theme of shame is connected to one of the Cunninghams. In Chapter 2, we saw Miss Caroline embarrass Walter Cunningham by offering him money for lunch, and now we see Scout embarrass Walter's father by reminding him that he's drunkenly threatening a man who has done nothing but help him through his legal troubles. Mr. Cunningham sobers up and goes away with his relatives from Old Sarum, but it's only because Scout put him in his place.
Violence. Thus far, the violence in the novel has been fairly innocuous, consisting mostly of Jem and Scout fighting and the children being afraid of Boo. Up until the Cunninghams came up to Atticus with the intent of killing Tom, the most violent thing to happen was Boo stabbing his father in the leg with a pair of scissors. Here, the threat of violence is sinister enough that it shakes Atticus up and makes him worry about exposing his kids to the trial. It's set to start on Monday.