In the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, what does Mrs. Dubose want from Jem as payment for ruining her camellia bushes?

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gmuss25 | Elementary School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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In Chapter 11, Mrs. Dubose makes several derogatory comments about Atticus to Jem as he is passing by her home on the way to the store. While Jem is walking back from the store, he takes Scout's new baton and destroys Mrs. Dubose's camellia bushes. When Jem goes to apologize for his actions, Mrs. Dubose requests that he read to her for two hours each day after school, including Saturdays, for an entire month to repay her for destroying the camellias. At the end of the chapter, Mrs. Dubose dies, and Atticus explains to Jem why Mrs. Dubose wanted him to read to her. Atticus tells Jem that Mrs. Dubose had a chronic illness and that she took morphine to alleviate the pain. However, Mrs. Dubose wanted to break her addiction, and Jem's reading occupied her mind in between doses of morphine. Each day, Jem read for a little bit longer until Mrs. Dubose was able to break her addiction. 

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Susan Woodward | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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Jem must read to Mrs. DuBose as punishment for ruining her bushes, even after she was the one to say terrible things about Jem's father, Atticus.  Each night when Jem reads, Mrs, Dubose sets a timer to mark the length of time he reads to her.  Each night, she lengthens the amount of time Jem is reading.  What Jem does not realize, but Atticus later explains to him, is that Mrs. Dubose is addicted to morphine.  Her illness and her pain made her the curmudgeon that she was.  Jem's reading to her distracted her from the pain so that she would not take the morphine during that time.  As she lengthened the time, she took less and less of the medicine until she was no longer addicted.  It was her wish to die without the addiction, and that is what Atticus described to Jem and Scout as "real courage".

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