To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 15 Summary

Instructor: Erica Schimmel

Erica has taught college English writing and literature courses and has a master's degree in children's literature.

In chapter 15, conflicts escalate as Tom Robinson's court date draws ever closer. We will examine two confrontations between Atticus and groups of men, and watch how Jem and Scout react to the increasingly hostile environment.

Opening Information

As we open chapter 15 of To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout and Jem are enjoying a brief week of peace with Dill after he has received permission to stay with them. As Scout notes, however, this peaceful time is short-lived as Tom Robinson's trial date draws closer. In this summary, we will look at how two conflicts in consecutive nights show the racially-charged divisions among the Finch's friends and neighbors.

A Knock at the Door

After what Scout tells us has been a 'placid' week, the Finch family, including Dill and Aunt Alexandra, are quietly enjoying their evening in the living room when there is a knock at the front door. Jem informs Atticus that Mr. Heck Tate, the town sheriff, wants to speak with him. When Atticus tells Jem to invite him in, Jem tells him that there are men accompanying Mr. Tate, and they want Atticus to come outside. Atticus tells the children to stay out of the situation, and Aunt Alexandra agrees. However, Jem turns off the lights and he, Dill, and Scout press against the windows to see what is going on outside. Jem's actions here foreshadow his behavior throughout the rest of the chapter, and novel.

It seems to Scout that the entire group of men is talking at the same time. They are concerned about Tom Robinson's stay in the Maycomb jail. Despite Atticus's belief that they can keep Tom safely for one night, the men claim another group of men might cause trouble. Though they begin with concern about another group of men, the conversation turns when the men question Atticus's decision to take Tom's case. They are beginning to crowd Atticus when Jem interrupts by screaming that the phone is ringing. When Atticus tells Jem to answer the phone, the men laugh, which breaks some of the tension, and the men leave.

Back inside, Jem asks Atticus whether the men had a formed a gang to 'get' him. Atticus tells Jem that they were not a gang, they were friends. In the ensuing conversation, Atticus tells Jem that Maycomb county does not have gangs, and moreover, the Ku Klux Klan no longer exists. Despite these assurances, Jem later informs Scout that he is afraid someone might try to hurt Atticus. These exchanges show that Jem is maturing and becoming more aware of the world around him.

Where is Atticus Going?

During a break between Sunday school and services the next day, Scout sees Atticus standing with another group of men. This group of men includes Mr. Heck Tate and Mr. Underwood, the owner, editor, and printer of The Maycomb Tribune. His presence is noteworthy since he never attends church and rarely leaves the office. When Scout catches Atticus on his way back in, he informs her that they have moved Tom Robinson to the Maycomb jail.

That evening, instead of his usual routine, Atticus comes into the living room carrying a light bulb and long extension cord. He announces he will be going out for a while and wishes the children good night. His decision to use the car makes his actions seem even stranger, since he is known for his insistence on walking in town.

Later that night, Scout catches Jem as he prepares to sneak out. She insists on joining him, and they leave together shortly after Aunty turns out her light. They stop to pick up Dill, and the group of three heads to Atticus' office. Upon finding it dark, they decide to see whether he is visiting Mr. Underwood. In order to get to Mr. Underwood's office, they must pass by the Maycomb jail.

As they pass the jail, Jem sees a light even though the jail does not have an outdoor light. The children look over to see Atticus sitting next to the front door with the lightbulb above his head. Scout moves to run to Atticus, but Jem holds her back because Atticus might not like them being out. He says he just wanted to see where Atticus was, and now they can go home.

Confrontation Outside the Jail Cell

Before they get too far, four cars slowly drive up and park in front of the jail cell. The children make their way closer while Atticus puts down his paper and waits. Men begin to get out of the cars and gather in front of the jail house. They begin asking Atticus whether 'he' (meaning Tom Robinson) is in the jail. Atticus answers that he is sleeping, and the men should go home. He warns the men that Heck Tate is nearby, but they counter that they have called him away on a 'snipe hunt'.

Atticus admits that this changes the situation. Before tensions can rise too much, Scout breaks away from Jem and Dill, thinking she will give Atticus a good surprise. When she reaches him, however, she sees fear in his face that is reintroduced when he realizes Jem and Dill accompany her. Embarassed, she recognizes that she does not know any of the men she has pushed her way through.

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