How do Scout and Jem learn about tolerance and courage with Mrs. Dubose in To Kill a Mockingbird?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Jem and Scout learn tolerance and courage from their interactions with their racist neighbor Mrs. Dubose in chapter 11 of the novel. Mrs. Dubose is the community's most notorious, obnoxious racist, and she continually makes rude remarks to the Finch children when they pass her home. Atticus teaches his children the importance of tolerance by explaining to them that they should not blame Mrs. Dubose for her comments and actions. Atticus tells Jem,

Easy does it, son . . . She’s an old lady and she’s ill. You just hold your head high and be a gentleman. Whatever she says to you, it’s your job not to let her make you mad (Lee, 103).

Instead of criticizing Mrs. Dubose and viewing her with contempt, Atticus exercises tolerance by smiling at her and saying,

Good evening, Mrs. Dubose! You look like a picture this evening (Lee, 103).

After Mrs. Dubose makes several racist, derogatory comments about Atticus, Jem destroys her camellia bush in a fit of anger. As punishment, Atticus makes Jem read to her for an hour each day, six days a week, for the entire month. Shortly after Jem's punishment is over, Mrs. Dubose passes away, and Atticus reveals that she was addicted to morphine. He explains that her last wish was to conquer her morphine addiction before she died in order to be free and "leave this world beholden to nothing and nobody." He refers to Mrs. Dubose as the bravest person he's ever met, because she conquered her addiction before she passed away, knowing that she would not survive. Atticus tells his children,

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 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 (Lee, 115).

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

It is primarily Jem who experiences the lessons first-hand with Mrs. Dubose. He learns about controlling his temper and being tolerant toward the opinions of others when Atticus upholds Mrs. Dubose's wish for Jem to come and read to her. During their reading sessions, Jem finds that it is best to bite his tongue and allow the old lady to vent than to say what's really on his mind. He eventually learns about Mrs. Dubose's unique brand of courage when Atticus informs him that her crankiness and hateful nature stem from her attempts to rid herself of a longstanding morphine addiction. She is dying but is willing to go through the torture of going cold turkey so she will end her life "beholden to nothing and nobody." Atticus downplays his own killing of the mad dog in the previous chapter by allowing Jem to

"... see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand."  (Chapter 11)

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial