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Because Jem had destroyed Mrs. Dubose's flowers, his father forced him to go to her and do whatever chores she asked. She wanted Jem to read to her, particularly Ivanhoe. Ivanhoe is about a disinherited knight who goes away to fight in the Crusades and returns (in disguise) to fight bravely in a tournament. His courage is recognized and he is accepted once again by the people. Mrs. Dubose was a morphine addict and wanted to be rid of the shame. Like Ivanhoe, she acted courageously and fought to be free.
As a punishment for destroying Mrs. Dubose's garden, Jem was forced to read to Mrs. Dubose. The book that he read to her was Ivanhoe. The text states:
"The following Monday afternoon Jem and I climbed the steep front steps to Mrs. Dubose’s house and padded down the open hallway. Jem, armed with Ivanhoe and full of superior knowledge, knocked at the second door on the left."
As with all good novels, the mention of details have a deeper point. In this case, Ivanhoe is appropriate to the situation. Ivanhoe was a Saxon knight who was disowned by his father for following King Richard on the third Crusade. After returning from the Crusade, he comes in disguise as a religious pilgrim and fights for love in a tournament.
One of the main characteristics of Ivanhoe is courage, which is perfectly fit for Mrs. Dubose, because Atticus says that Mrs. Dubose was an incredibly brave woman. Here is what Atticus says of her:
"It’s when you know 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."
Sir Walter Scott, author of Ivanhoe and many other romantic historical novels which made him rich and famous, has suffered a severe decline in popularity and critical esteem because of his sentimentality and artificial dialogue, among other things. Here is a sample of the dialogue from Ivanhoe, which is characteristic of the way all his men and women speak.
"Truly," said Wamba, without stirring from the spot, "I have consulted my legs upon this matter, and they are altogether of opinion, that to carry my gay garments through these sloughs, would be an act of unfriendship to my sovereign person and royal wardrobe; wherefore, Gurth, I advise thee to call off Fangs, and leave the herd to their destiny, which, whether they meet with bands of travelling soldiers, or of outlaws, or of wandering pilgrims, can be little else than to be converted into Normans before morning, to thy no small ease and comfort."
Mrs. Dubose's taste for Ivanhoe, or for any other novel by Sir Walter Scott, characterizes her as an old-fashioned, Southern-belle type of woman who dotes on romantic heroes and beautiful, gracious heroines behaving with decorum in a world of unreality, a sort of fairy-land past that never really existed. We can also imagine how the treacly prose and dialogue must have been torture for poor Jem to have to read and how it contributed to his punishment. He probably didn't understand one-tenth of what he was reading to this faded Southern belle. She is a relic of the Old South, not unlike William Faulkner's Emily Grierson in "A Rose for Emily" or Azalea Adair in O. Henry's "A Municipal Report."
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