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In ch. 11 Jem is a mad dog and Mrs. Dubose "shoots" him twice. What is the connection...

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bunardy | eNotes Newbie

Posted March 21, 2009 at 9:32 AM via web

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In ch. 11 Jem is a mad dog and Mrs. Dubose "shoots" him twice. What is the connection with that and the other mad dog in ch. 10?

In Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.

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madelynfair | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted March 21, 2009 at 10:33 AM (Answer #1)

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This is a wonderful, meaty question.

Jem loses his temper, a boy with normally "a slow fuse" as his sister characterizes him, and in a fit of rage, destroys Mrs. Dubose's camellias and snaps Scout's baton. Scout says he "simply went mad." This is after Mrs. Dubose fires two shots at the children (and author Lee does use the word "shot"):

  • that Atticus is "no better than the niggers and trash he works for"
  • and that their family is morally degenerate and mentally ill.

The implication that the Finches are mentally ill seems to be the last straw. Ironically, it drives Jem "mad."

Now, the dog of chapter 10 is rabid, or mad, and Jem is mad, and Mrs. Dubose seems pretty unhinged herself, hollering, slobbering, saying unpardonable things to children. Lots of madness abounds.

The question is, what emotions or themes seem to link the two scenes?

Scout, as narrator, expresses what feeling for her father in each scene? Note that prior to Jem's loss of temper, she says that she sees her father as "the bravest man who ever lived." This is because he speaks to Mrs. Dubose so graciously and calmly every day as he passes. Scout is petrified, and meanwhile, Jem is livid. He doesn't seem to notice his father's bravery as much as he notices his own need for revenge. Jem is so angry at Mrs. Dubose's nasty comments that he can't appreciate Atticus's fearlessness in the face of "majority rule," represented by Mrs. Dubose's daily chastisements.

After he destroys her garden, Jem faces punishment -- reading to Mrs. Dubose every day. What does Jem have to do in order to survive the bedside vigil where, unbeknownst to him, he is watching a woman detox from a morphine addiction? How would you describe what Jem at this young age is being asked to do?

It's a test of courage and will.

The episode with the mad dog is a similiar test, but it is solved in a heartbeat by pulling a trigger. What does Jem have to summon in order to survive this test in Mrs. Dubose's house for a month?

If you go to the end of this chapter, you will hear Atticus's reasons for sending Jem into what Scout sees as a lion's den. Look at what Atticus says about bravery and then you will find the connection to the mad dog scene.

Finally, think about why these scenes are near one another. Think about overall themes in the novel about madness and majority rule. What happens when normally kind and civil people go mad with racist rage?

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parkerlee | Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

Posted March 21, 2009 at 5:42 PM (Answer #2)

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To me this seems to be a false analogy. Not everything can be compared. When Atticus shoots the rabid dog, he is trying to exterminate a contamination which is threatening Maycomb. It seems that a more appropriate interpretation would be that the rabid dog, the vector of the disease, represents people who have fallen prey to prejudice. They are both victims to a disease bigger than themselves and are also a threat for its propagation. When Atticus shoots the dog, he is helping the community rid itself of its "disease."

This is what I see in this story, but the first interpretation submitted "holds water" too.  That's the neat thing about literary analysis - there are many facets to discover in the same work.

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engtchr5 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted March 21, 2009 at 9:25 PM (Answer #3)

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Like parkerlee above, I think this question is a bit of a stretch at parallelism. Yes, there is a mad dog in chapter 10 which Atticus has to shoot. Yes, Jem gets angry beyond words in chapter 11 and avenges his offense by hacking up Mrs. Dubose's bushes. But even literary experts have not connected the two symbolically, or made one into a foreshadowing of the other. It sounds to me like your teacher is attempting to make a case for something that Harper Lee never really intended. Sure, there are some basic similarities between the scenes, but again, the two do not seem to be tied to one another in any truly meaningful way. 

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