Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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How does Jem behave during the mob scene in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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During the mob scene in To Kill a Mockingbird, Jem behaves defiantly toward Atticus. However, he does this because he feels that he needs to support his father by protecting him in front of the mob.

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In chapter 15, Atticus heads into town after dinner to wait outside of Tom Robinson's cell as a precaution. Atticus is wary of the Old Sarum bunch and realizes that they might try to harm Tom on the night before the controversial trial. That evening, Atticus takes a lightbulb and his newspaper with him, and the children end up tracking him down. Jem can sense that something is amiss and is worried about Atticus, which is why he leads Scout and Dill into the middle of town, where they find Atticus peacefully reading the newspaper outside of the jail. Suddenly, the Old Sarum bunch arrives and surrounds Atticus. Despite their threats, Atticus refuses to move and allow them to lynch Tom Robinson.

As the children watch from a distance, Scout gets curious and ends up running out of her hiding spot into the middle of the group of men. Jem and Dill follow Scout, and Atticus tells Jem to take the children home. However, Jem defiantly refuses to leave the scene. When Atticus demands that his son go home, Jem boldly defies his orders by shaking his head and standing with his fists in his pockets. Scout remarks on their appearance by saying, "Mutual defiance made them alike." By refusing to leave the scene, Jem not only exercises defiance but also demonstrates his loyalty and courage. Unlike Scout, Jem recognizes the gravity of the situation and will not allow Atticus to fend for himself. Fortunately, Walter Cunningham sympathizes with Atticus's difficult situation and tells the lynch mob to disband. Following the tense situation, Atticus massages Jem's hair, which is a gesture that shows his affection and appreciation.

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In chapter 15, Atticus stands up against a mob outside the county jail that is eager to lynch Tom Robinson. Jem, Scout, and Dill have snuck along to see what Atticus is up to. When the mob arrives, Scout recklessly runs to her father's side. Jem follows close behind and stands by his father and sister, refusing to leave.

This scene shows Jem's maturity, resolve, and protectiveness. Atticus clearly and sternly orders Jem to take Scout and Dill home. Jem refuses. This is perhaps the first time that he has defied his father's orders so clearly. It is not that he wishes to be insolent; rather, Jem sees that his father is in a potentially dangerous situation and wants to protect his family.

Normally, Atticus feels that he needs to protect his children. In front of the mob, Atticus is still playing the role of protector, first for Tom Robinson and then for the children. However, Jem also feels that he has a responsibility to defend his family. Even though his father is adamant that Jem needs to leave the scene, the boy vehemently refuses. He senses the danger that the mob poses yet feels that he must also assume the risks of the situation to stay by his father's side. In the end, Atticus seems proud of Jem. After the situation with the mob is diffused, Scout sees Atticus affectionately rub Jem's head.

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When Atticus stands guard outside Tom Robinson’s cell, Jem refuses to leave even though there is a lynch mob there.

Atticus knows that the group of men will try to come for Tom Robinson, to kill him before he can be tried.  Since he is a black man whom they think attacked a white woman, they believe they have that right.

When the children go to check on Atticus, they realize he is sitting outside the jail reading.

Atticus was sitting propped against the front door. He was sitting in one of his office chairs, and he was reading, oblivious of the nightbugs dancing over his head. (ch 15)

At first, Atticus tells Scout to leave Atticus alone and wants to go home.  Then they see the mob.

Since there is no light, Atticus had to run an extension cord.  When the men ask Atticus if Tom Robinson is inside, Atticus tells them to be quiet because he is asleep—so the men whisper.

When the men tell Atticus that Heck Tate, the sheriff, is out in the woods, he does not seem concerned.  Scout is excited, not wanting to miss the fun.  She runs to Atticus.

Jem shrieked and tried to catch me, but I had a lead on him and Dill. I pushed my way through dark smelly bodies and burst into the circle of light. (ch 15)

Jem is concerned.  He runs after his sister to protect her.  Atticus shows “a flash of plain fear” when he sees Scout, and then again when Jem and Dill come out.  With trembling hands, Atticus tells Jem to go home.  He refuses.

Jem shook his head. As Atticus's fists went to his hips, so did Jem's, and as they faced each other I could see little resemblance between them: … but they were somehow alike. Mutual defiance made them alike. (ch 15)

Jem always does what he is told.  Here, he doesn’t.  He is worried about his father, and his sister.  He stands his ground.  Atticus makes “threats, requests” and pleas, but Jem refuses.  Scout decides that “Jem had his own reasons for doing as he did” (ch 15).

Scout intervenes, striking up a conversation with Walter Cunningham’s father, while Atticus’s “attention amounted to fascination” (ch 15).  They leave, and “Atticus reached out and massaged Jem's hair, his one gesture of affection.”   Clearly, Atticus is just relieved that his children are okay.

Jem shows a great deal of maturity in this episode.  He risks physical danger and Atticus’s disappointment to protect his sister, and then his father.  He demonstrates both physical and moral courage, and the incident ultimately brings Jem and his father closer together.

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