How does Mrs. Dubose show courage?

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amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Mrs. Dubose behaves like a cantankerous old woman who has nothing positive to say, so initially it seems unlikely that she will be an example of courage in this novel. However, when she dies (shortly after Jem completes his punishment of reading to her), Atticus reveals this courage. In Chapter 11, Atticus returns from Mrs. Dubose's and tells Jem of her passing. Atticus also reveals that Mrs. Dubose had been addicted to morphine. She became sick and had only a few months to live. She was determined to break her morphine habit before she died. Jem reading to her helped her to pass the time. As sick as she was, it would have made sense for her to continue taking morphine to dull the pain, but instead she took the pain in order to die free of her addiction. Atticus tells Jem: 

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. 

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kapokkid | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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At first glance, Harper Lee's characterization of Mrs. Dubose is that of an extremely nasty old woman who takes out her unhappiness on the children for no particular reason. This sets the reader against her from her introduction, and it only gets worse when she says nasty things about Atticus in front the children. The fact that her interactions with Atticus are so sweet and kind are difficult to connect to her angry and bitter interactions with the children.

So it is somewhat shocking when Atticus suggests that she is one of the bravest people he's ever met.

As previous posters noted, her decision to confront her addiction is a brave one. There were no drugs like methadone to help with the withdrawal and given her age, it is very likely going to be too much for her to handle and might kill her. Knowing that, she still chooses to take the chance.

And she endures the withdrawal quietly and mostly alone. Jem reading to her helps to pass the time but it is clear that she still goes through terrible withdrawal symptoms. Her willingness to endure this in order to have moments of clarity demonstrate her courage not just in the face of her addiction but also the end of her life.

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Yes, of course, first Jem feels pretty angry with Atticus for having to read to Mrs. Dubose as a punishment.  To Jem, she is just a grumpy old lady who spreads her negativity to the entire town.  No wonder her flowers were trampled!  It is when Jem finds out the truth, right after Jem finishes his punishment, that he changes his tune.  Jem, of course, finds out the truth from Atticus.

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.

Why is Mrs. Dubose "the bravest person I ever knew"?  It is Atticus, as always, who reveals the truth about Mrs. Dubose's courage.  Due to her terminal illness, Mrs. Dubose was addicted to morphine.  She only had a few months to live and had made it a goal to kick the morphine habit before she died.  Withdrawal from the drug of morphine has an unfortunate side effect:  agitation, anger, and overall grumpiness.  Mrs. Dubose, unfortunately, was unable to stop those withdrawal symptoms. 

It was Jem's reading that helped Mrs. Dubose pass the time before she died and forget, even for a little bit, about her condition.  Due to her terminal illness, we would have not held Mrs. Dubose responsible for the morphine addition to lessen her pain.  Courageously, she chose, instead, to endure the pain in order to beat her addiction. 

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