To Kill a Mockingbird Questions and Answers
by Harper Lee

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In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus says that Mrs. Dubose is a model of real courage rather "a man with a gun in his hand." What does he mean?

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In chapter eleven, Atticus makes Jem read each day to Mrs. Dubose as punishment for destroying her camellia bush. Mrs. Dubose passes away shortly after Jem finishes his punishment, and Atticus explains to Jem that his reading helped Mrs. Dubose break her morphine addiction. According to Atticus, Mrs. Dubose is the most courageous person he's ever known because she knew that she would die from her chronic disease but remained determined to break her addiction. Atticus goes on to tell 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. (Lee, 115)

Atticus believes that real courage requires sacrifice and feels that an audience does not need to be present to witness the brave action. In contrast, a man with a gun is in a position of power, has the upper hand, and demands the spotlight. A man with a gun is nothing special, and it does not require courage to wield a weapon. In Atticus's perspective, real courage is done behind closed doors and happens when a person knows that they are at a disadvantage but continues to fight anyway.

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mari-lynne | Student

I think what he is describing here is not the actuall courage of Mrs Dubose battling her sickness rather how she managed to stick to her beliefs and views even when Jem tried to contradict her. Atticus does not go on and disregard her views even though they oppose eachother and instead choses to respect them. Teaching Jem a valuble lesson on how to treat your enemies by showing this kind of respect towards eachother.

samoulton | Student

Mrs. Dubose is facing her addiction head on with no knowledge of what the outcome may be. She is gooing to fight her battle blindly, no matter how scary or difficult it becomes. A man with a "gun in his hand" enters his battle with an advantage, and no fear of the outcome. A gun would make a fight less courageous due to the obvious advantage, and lack of courage needed to engage in the fight.