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In Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee shows that children learn important lessons through observing the lives of others. In every situation the children confront, Lee uses it as an "educational moment."
One example is what the children (but especially Jem) learn in the company of Mrs. Dubose. Atticus has taken Tom Robinson on as his client, and Atticus and his children receive a lot of criticism. One is Mrs. Dubose, a nasty bigot who picks on the kids. Scolding the children as they pass one day, and she verbally attacks Atticus. Jem is trying to get away until Mrs. Dubose takes a parting shot:
"Come on, Scout," he whispered. "Don't pay any attention to her, just hold your head high and be a gentleman."
But Mrs. Dubose held us: "Not only a Finch waiting on tables but one in the courthouse lawing for n***ers!"
Jem comes back and cuts the heads off of all Mrs. Dubose's flowers. Jem is punished. He has to read to Mrs. Dubose after school everyday. Soon after he finishes, news arrives that Mrs. Dubose has died. Atticus explains that during Jem's time there, Mrs. Dubose was fighting a morphine addiction. Atticus says:
"You know, she was a great lady."
"A lady?" Jem raised his head..."After all those things she said about you, a lady?"
"She was. She had her own views about things, a lot different from mine, maybe...son, I told you that if you hadn't lost your head I'd have made you go read to her. I wanted you to see something about her—I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. Mrs. Dubose won, all ninety-eight pounds of her. According to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew."
Jem is given an example of true courage in the example of Mrs. Dubose's fighting spirit.
Another lesson comes from Dolphus Raymond. While it may seem that he is weak because he refuses to defiantly live openly with a black woman, pretending instead that he is a drunkard (when all he drinks out of his bag is Coke), there are important lessons here: one cannot judge a book by its cover. We also see how hard it is for the children, especially Dill, to face the hatred in the courtroom. And the children find comfort in Dolphus' recognition of the painfulness of such hatred in the world—something they did not know.
The greatest lessons the children learn are from Atticus. He is committed to setting a good and honest example for his children, which is why he doesn't want Jem protected just because he is Atticus' son, if Jem harmed Bob Ewell.
We see it in how Atticus faces Ewells' hatred after Tom's trial is finished. On the street one day, Ewell spits in Atticus' face. Atticus acts in the way he wants his children to act—calmly, without ignorance or hatred:
"I wish Bob Ewell wouldn't chew tobacco," was all Atticus said about it.
Stephanie Crawford relates that Ewell also cursed at him and threatened to kill him. When Ewell asks Atticus if he's too proud to fight, Atticus (wiping is face) simply responds:
"No, too old," put his hands in his pockets and strolled on.
He did not raise his voice or get angry—he strolled away.
The children grow up a great deal during the novel, and the greatest life lessons they learn are from some of the best (and worst) members of the Maycomb community.
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