In To Kill a Mockingbird, how and why does the author end part one with a perfect camellia?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The way that Chapter 11 ends with Jem fingering the "perfect camellia" that Mrs Du Bose has left him is deeply symbolic of the innate goodness that lay at the heart of Mrs Du Bose herself, in spite of all of her anger and racist beliefs. Note how the camellia is described:

Atticus reached down and picked up the candy box. He handed it to Jem. Jem opened the box. Inside, surrounded by wads of damp cotton, was a white, waxy, perfect camellia. It was a Snow-on-the-Mountain.

The whiteness and perfection of the flower suggests an innate goodness that lies at the heart of its giver, and it also relates to the essential goodness that Atticus maintains exists within all humans, no matter what external faults they may demonstrate. Jem's initial rejection of the flower suggests that he has not reached a point in his development where he is able to accept this truth, though the way that the first section of this novel ends with him "fingering the wide petals" points towards his gradual acceptance of this central fact. Lee ends the first section of this text in this way with a very positive message about humanity, which will be profoundly challenged by the actions of various humans in the remaining chapters of her book. The challenge for Jem is to see the inner goodness in the heart of characters such as Mrs Du Bose, who appear so bigoted and racist on the outside. This of course represents a major theme of this work as the author asks the reader to see beyond outer appearances and recognise the inner realities of various characters. 

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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