How does prejudice interfere with Jem and Scout's understanding of Mrs. Dubose?

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Prejudice or pre-judging a person without full information, emerges in the beginning of the novel as Jem and Scout accept the neighborhood's verdict that Mrs. Dubose is "the meanest old woman who ever lived." Their brief interactions with her do little to dispel their preconceived notions: she calls Scout "you ugly girl," and accuses both children of being sassy and disrespectful. She gazes at them with anger, questions them relentlessly and tells them they won't amount to anything. 

Though they learn from Atticus that Mrs. Dubose is ill, they have trouble mustering sympathy for her. Jen finally gets so angry with Mrs. Dubose that he takes Scout's baton and beheads all of her camellias. When Atticus sends them to her house read Ivanhoe to her, her appearance reinforces their prejudice: she is wrinkled, liver-spotted, drools and has false teeth. 

But as they get to know her better, while she is not particularly kind to them, they become more used to her: When she insults him, Jem can look at her with a face "devoid of resentment." After she dies, the children learn she was a morphine addict who had them read to her as she was trying to get clean. The children, already prejudiced and believing her to be horrible, have trouble seeing past her outer shell to a person in pain. Atticus describes her as a truly courageous person, more so than a person with a gun. We have to imagine that the adult Scout, reflecting back on this part of her life, might finally agree. 

Kathryn Draney eNotes educator| Certified Educator
  • Prejudice interferes with Jem and Scout's understanding of Mrs. Dubose because they judge her even though they do not know her entire story: they are unaware that she is a morphine addict. They pre-judge her based upon the little information they have on her.
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To Kill a Mockingbird

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