To Kill a Mockingbird

by: Harper Lee

Chapters 14–15

Dill’s account of his family troubles reminds both Scout and the reader of the Finch household’s good fortune. Atticus is a wonderful father, and Aunt Alexandra’s faults result from caring too much rather than too little. Dill’s parents have treated him with apathy and disregard, perhaps the greatest offense a parent can commit.

As Scout duly notes, the world of childhood fun that Dill represents can no longer stave off the adult reality of hatred and unfairness that Jem finds himself entering. Whereas, two years before, the Finch children’s lives were dominated by games and friendship with Dill, their lives now focus on the adult world of Tom Robinson’s trial. The now mature Jem leads Scout and Dill into town on the night that Atticus faces the lynch mob. Symbolically, this scene marks Jem’s transition from boy to man, as he stands beside Atticus and refuses to “go home,” since only a child would do so. Though he disobeys his father, he does so not petulantly but maturely. He understands Atticus’s difficult situation with regard to the case and consequently fears for Atticus’s safety. Nevertheless, the confrontation is dominated by Scout’s innocence, still sufficiently intact that she can chat with Mr. Cunningham about his son despite being surrounded by a hostile lynch mob.

Some critics find Scout’s performance and the dispersal of the mob in this scene unconvincing and pat, wondering how Scout can remain so blissfully unaware of what is really going on and how Mr. Cunningham can be persuaded by Scout’s Southern courtesy to break up the drunken posse. Within the moral universe of To Kill a Mockingbird, the behavior of both characters makes perfect sense. As befits her innocence, Scout remains convinced of other people’s essential goodness, a conviction that the novel shares. Rather than marking them as inherently evil, the mob members’ racism only shrouds their humanity, their worthiness, and their essential goodness. Scout’s attempt at politeness makes Mr. Cunningham realize her essential goodness, and he responds with civility and kindness. As Atticus says later, the events of that night prove that “a gang of wild animals can be stopped, simply because they’re still human.”

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