To Kill a Mockingbird Questions and Answers
by Harper Lee

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In the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, explain Mrs. Dubose's addiction to morphine and why she was so grouchy while being addicted to it?

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Lauren Miller eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Mrs. Dubose is a neighbor to the Finch family, and the Finch children must walk by her house each day to go to town. Both Jem and Scout dislike Mrs. Dubose and think of her as a grumpy old woman because she frequently yells rude things as the children pass by. Mrs. Dubose is also a racist and a morphine addict. Despite her shortcomings, Atticus insists that his children are kind to Mrs. Dubose. When Jem ruins some of her flowers to get revenge for a racist and rude comment she makes against his father, Atticus punishes him by making him read to Mrs. Dubose for a month.

The grouchy attitude that Mrs. Dubose used when interacting with people was likely a side effect of her lack of morphine use. Mrs. Dubose used morphine in order to alleviate her chronic illness. She became addicted to morphine because it eased her pain from this sickness, however, Mrs. Dubose wished to die without being addicted to morphine and was weaning herself from the drug. It was likely that Mrs. Dubose was in an extreme amount of pain at this time, which affected her attitude and caused her to say rude and inappropriate things.

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In Chapter 11, Jem loses his temper after Mrs. Dubose makes several derogatory comments about his father. Jem's punishment is to read to Mrs. Dubose for two hours every day, except for Sunday. Later on in the chapter, Jem notices that his reading hours become longer, and Mrs. Dubose stays awake for longer periods of time each day correcting his reading. When Mrs. Dubose dies, Atticus explains to Jem that Mrs. Dubose suffered from a chronic illness and took morphine to ease the pain. She asked Atticus if he could help her, and Jem's reading kept Mrs. Dubose occupied and her mind off the pain in between her morphine doses. Mrs. Dubose's final wish was to die free of her addiction. Each day, Jem would read for a little bit longer, thus increasing the time in between doses of morphine until her addiction was broken. Mrs. Dubose was in extreme discomfort while Jem was reading to her, which probably resulted in her grouchy attitude. Also, addicts who suffer from withdrawal symptoms are extremely irritable, which explains why she would continually harass Jem while he was reading.

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