To Kill a Mockingbird – Chapter 11

Mrs. Dubose is an old, cranky woman. According to Scout, Mrs. Dubose spends “most of each day in bed and the rest of it in a wheelchair.” If she is out on her porch when Jem and Scout pass by, she rakes them with her “wrathful gaze” and subjects them to “ruthless interrogation” regarding their behavior, telling them that they will amount to nothing when they grow up. Scout and Jem hate her. Scout tells the reader about Mrs. Dubose. How does she describe the woman? How doScout and Jem feel about her?
In a sudden rage, Jem rushes into Mrs. Dubose’s front yard and cuts the tops off all her camellia bushes. Scout says she still wonders exactly what made Jem do it, but at the time, she concluded that the only explanation was that “for a few minutes he simply went mad.”It is clear that Jem’s anger had been steadily building over the past couple of weeks. On the day he finally snapped, Mrs. Dubose had extended her insults to Atticus, viciously shouting, “Your father’s no better than the ******s and trash he works for!” The insult to his father is what ultimately drives Jem over the edge, causing him to lose control and lash out at the woman. . As Scout and Jem are returning home from town one day, Jem does something to the shock and astonishment of Scout. What does he do, and why?
He means that your own conscience must tell you what is right or wrong, and it does not matter how many others agree or disagree with you. As Atticus explains to Scout, this is why he is defending Tom Robinson, even though most of the town thinks he is wrong for doing it. His guide to morality is his own conscience, as opposed to the distorted code of ethics that the majority of the town holds. What does Atticus mean when he says, “The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience”?
He must go to her house and read to her: “She wants me to come every afternoon afterschool and Saturdays and read to her out loud for two hours.” Jem is not happy with thepunishment. Not only does he find Mrs. Dubose a cruel woman, but her house is scary and depressing: “…it’s all dark and creepy. There’s shadows and things on the ceiling….” What is Jem’s punishment for knocking the tops off Mrs. Dubose’s flowers? How does he feel about this punishment?
Mrs. Dubose is alert for about the first twenty minutes of the visit. Then, something strange comes over her, which alarms the children. As Scout describes it, “Something had happened to her…Her head moved slowly from side to side. From time to time she would open her mouth wide…Cords of saliva would collect on her lips; she would draw them in, then open her mouth again. Her mouth seemed to have a private existence of its own.” Mrs. Dubose seems to be in her own world during this time, unaware that Jem and Scout are even there. She eventually comes to her senses again, the alarm clock goes off, and Jem and Scout are told they may leave. Jem and Scout later conclude that she must be having fits of some kind. What is odd about Mrs. Dubose’s behavior each afternoon when Scout and Jem visit her?
Atticus explains that the offensive word is meaningless and empty: “[it] is just one of those terms that don’t mean anything…ignorant, trashy people use it when they think somebody’s favoring Negroes over and above themselves. It’s slipped into usage…[as] a common, ugly term to label somebody.”His response teaches Scout that offensive or insulting words cannot really harm a person.Instead, such words only demonstrate how lowly the speaker is: “It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn’t hurt you.” When Scout tells Atticus what Mrs. Dubose has been calling him, what is his response?What lesson does he teach Scout during this conversation?
Each day when the alarm clock rings, Mrs. Dubose’s housekeeper comes into the room and tells the children to leave because it is time for the old woman’s medicine. For Scout, the alarm clock has become the signal for their daily release. One afternoon, Scout notices that “each day we had been staying a little while longer at Mrs. Dubose’s, that the alarm clock went off a few minutes later every day, and that she was well into one of her fits by the time it sounded.” About a week later, Scout notices that the alarm clock has stopped going off and that Mrs. Dubose is no longer having her strange fits. What is the significance of the alarm clock by Mrs. Dubose’s bed? What does Scout suddenly notice about it one day?
Atticus tells the children that Mrs. Dubose has died. He says that she had been a very sick woman for a long time. He also explains that her strange fits had been the withdrawal effects of morphine addiction. Her illness had caused her great pain, so she had been taking the drug for years on her doctor’s prescription. One evening, Atticus is summoned to Mrs. Dubose’s house. What does he reveal to Jem and Scout when he returns?
Mrs. Dubose’s goal was to overcome her morphine addiction before she died. She had told Atticus that she was determined “to leave this world beholden to nothing and nobody.” Jem’s reading to her each day distracted her from the agony of her withdrawal symptoms. Mrs. Dubose deliberately extended the reading time each day when she set the alarm clock.The longer she went without the drug, the closer she came to breaking her addiction to it. According to Atticus, Mrs. Dubose had made one goal for herself before she died. What was it? How did Jem unknowingly help her reach that goal? How does this explain the significance of the alarm clock?
Atticus says that real courage is “when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.” The definition fits Mrs. Dubose because conquering her morphine addiction required real courage. She knew that she would be in extreme agony when she decided to stop taking the drug but she followed through anyway, and she ultimately triumphed. The definition fits Atticus, as well, particularly his decision to take on Tom Robinson’sdefense. He knows that the case is virtually unwinnable, but that does not stop him from trying. Even though he is beaten before he begins, he has the moral courage to persevere and stand up for what he believes is right. What does Atticus say “real courage” is? How does his definition relate to Mrs. Dubose?How does it fit Atticus himself?
Atticus wants to teach Jem that good and bad coexist in all people. Even a person as cruel and hateful as Mrs. Dubose may have some virtuous qualities. One of hers was obviously courage. This lesson about the complicated nature of people may help Jem and Scout deal with certain revelations about their friends and neighbors that will inevitably come out as the trial begins. As Atticus speaks about Mrs. Dubose’s bravery, what lesson is he attempting to teach Jem?
Inside the box is a “white, waxy, perfect camellia.” Jem’s initial response is one of shock and anger: “[His] eyes nearly popped out of his head. ‘Old hell-devil, old hell-devil!’ he screamed, flinging it down. ‘Why can’t she leave me alone?'” Later, however, after Atticus speaks about Mrs. Dubose’s bravery, Jem becomes quiet and thoughtful. Scout says that when she went to bed that night, she saw that Jem had picked up the camellia and was “fingering the wide petals.” Atticus hands Jem a box that Mrs. Dubose had left for him. What is in the box, and what is Jem’s response to the contents?

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