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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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How does Scout get Mr. Cunningham and the mob to leave in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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In To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout stops the lynch mob by conversing politely with Mr. Cunningham. Her innocent presence, so deeply at odds with the mob's sinister purpose in coming to the jail, reminds Mr. Cunningham that he is a father and inspires him to think like a compassionate individual instead of succumbing to mob mentality.

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Scout diffuses a potentially dangerous situation by talking to Walter Cunningham Sr. about ordinary, everyday matters.

Mr. Cunningham is the head of a drunken, angry mob that's descended on the local jail with the express intention of lynching Tom Robinson, who's being held there. Although Tom is wholly innocent of any crime, that cuts no ice with the lynch mob; as far as they're concerned, he's guilty simply by virtue of being a Black man accused of raping and assaulting a white woman.

When the mob shows up, Atticus is sitting out in front of the jail, reading a newspaper. Unbeknownst to him, Scout has made her way to the jail, concerned as she was that something was up. It isn't very long before the situation becomes intense, with the threat of violence in the air.

But Scout's able to take the heat of the situation by talking to Mr. Cunningham like he's a human being. Instead of pleading or begging with him to leave, she talks to him as if she had just met him in the street.

She talks about the legal work that her father has done for him, and about Mr. Cunningham's son, Walter Jr., with whom she goes to school. All this normal talk, coming from a child, disarms Mr. Cunningham, and the lynching is called off.

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Scout unintentionally prevents Mr. Cunningham and Old Sarum bunch from lynching Tom Robinson and compels them to leave the Maycomb jailhouse by affecting Mr. Cunningham's humanity when she begins talking about "entailments" and his son. As Atticus later explains to his children, Mr. Cunningham and the members of the Old Sarum bunch were affected by "mob mentality" when they arrived at the Maycomb jailhouse intent on killing Tom Robinson.

Typically, Mr. Cunningham is an honest, friendly man who appreciates Atticus for his legal counsel. However, Mr. Cunningham loses his humanity and individuality when he becomes part of a lynch mob. As a member of a lynch mob, Mr. Cunningham suppresses his compassionate, rational nature and behaves like an aggressive, hostile man.

When Scout tries to start a conversation with him, Mr. Cunningham intentionally ignores her and remains focused on the violent task at hand. Despite his reluctance to engage Scout, her innocent demeanor and moving questions make him acknowledge his behavior and consider his actions. By mentioning Walter's name and referencing Mr. Cunningham's previous business deals with Atticus, Scout reminds Mr. Cunningham that he is a father and friend of the Finches. Mr. Cunningham's "mob mentality" disappears when he recognizes Scout, and he exercises compassion towards Atticus and his family by leaving the jailhouse without harming anyone.

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Scout is able to stop the lynch mob from harming Atticus and killing Tom Robinson by (somewhat unintentionally) forcing Mr. Cunningham to sympathize with her father's difficult situation. Shortly after Scout runs into the group of strangers surrounding Atticus, she recognizes Mr. Cunningham. Scout's childhood innocence and naiveté limit her understanding of the serious situation, and so she casually attempts to strike up a friendly conversation with the leader of the lynch mob. Atticus, Mr. Cunningham, and the other members of the lynch mob watch in astonishment as Scout chats about Cunningham's son, Walter Cunningham Jr., and tries to discuss Mr. Cunningham's entailment.

Scout's presence and innocence ultimately influence Mr. Cunningham to stand in Atticus's shoes and view the situation from his point of view. After Scout mentions Walter Cunningham Jr., Mr. Cunningham is reminded that he is also a father like Atticus and sympathizes with him on a paternal level. Mr. Cunningham sees that the children will not leave and thinks about how he would feel if he were Atticus. Rather than callously dismiss Scout, Jem, and Dill and follow through with the brutal crime, Mr. Cunningham acknowledges Scout and instructs the lynch mob to disperse. In the next chapter, Atticus discusses mob mentality and explains to his children that their presence influenced Mr. Cunningham to come to his senses and think like an individual.

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When a group develops a "mob mentality", they become willing to do things they normally wouldn't do if they were in their right frames of mind. This is the mentality of the mob outside the jail. They have allowed their emotions to overtake their reason, and all they want is revenge against Tom Robinson, an innocent black man, whom they think has raped Mayella Ewell.

By talking to Mr. Cunningham, Scout reminds him that he is a father just as Atticus is. She calms Cunningham and the other men down by making them realize that all of them are residents of Maycomb. Scout's innocent remarks turnsthe mob back into a group of friends and neighbors who have always been treated kindly and respectfully by Atticus. As a mob, the men are nameless, but when Scout calls them by their names, the men become individuals.

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Scout's childhood innocence makes Mr. Cunningham leave. Here's how: She begins talking to him about his son and his "entailments." She brings out the humanity of Mr. Cunningham. Wanting to instigate a fight, Mr. Cunningham still has enough decency to not do so in front of children. I don't think Scout is aware of what she is doing and how she is diffusing a situation. I do think Jem knows. He is the one who chose to stay when he could tell the danger of the situation.

When Cunningham realizes these children aren't going to leave, and when the mention of his son melts his anger, he and the rest of the mob decide to leave.

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