In To Kill a Mockingbird, what is the significance of Mrs. Dubose's addiction to morphine, and why was she so irritable?

Images:
This image has been Flagged as inappropriate Click to unflag
Image (1 of 1)

Expert Answers

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

After Mrs. Dubose's death, Atticus stated that she was the bravest woman he ever knew. This utterly confused Jem because all he ever witnessed was how mean she had been. In fact, every single time he and Scout walked by her house, she would yell "philippics" at them:

"Don’t you contradict me!...And you—what...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

After Mrs. Dubose's death, Atticus stated that she was the bravest woman he ever knew. This utterly confused Jem because all he ever witnessed was how mean she had been. In fact, every single time he and Scout walked by her house, she would yell "philippics" at them:

"Don’t you contradict me!...And you—what are you doing in those overalls? You should be in a dress and camisole, young lady! You’ll grow up waiting on tables if somebody doesn’t change your ways—a Finch waiting on tables at the O.K. Café—hah!"

The last straw for Jem was when Mrs. Dubose insulted Atticus by saying that he was "in the courthouse lawing for niggers," and he was sent him in a fit of anger which ended with Jem destroying Mrs. Dubose's camellias. Jem's punishment was to read to Mrs. Dubose for an extended period of time. When he and Scout first entered her home, "she was lying under a pile of quilts and looked almost friendly." However, that amiability didn't last long before Mrs. Dubose called Scout "dirty."

During their time at her home, the children noticed that Mrs. Dubose would often have "fits" and then doze off. Usually an alarm clock would go off around this time. Over time, Mrs. Dubose stayed awake longer and longer and listened to more of Jem's reading. The day came when Atticus arrived to pick up the children, and Mrs. Dubose triumphantly exclaimed, "Do you
know what time it is, Atticus?...Exactly fourteen minutes past five. The
alarm clock’s set for five-thirty. I want you to know that." The significance of time was a mystery to the children.

Mrs. Dubose died about a month after Jem's "sentence" was over which was something Jem had conflicted feelings about. On one hand, Mrs. Dubose had been rotten to him and his sister. On the other, she had passed away. Atticus says to Jem that she was "not suffering any more. She was sick for a long time," and asks his son if he knew "what her fits were." It was then that Jem learned the truth about Mrs. Dubose and her nasty temper: She was a morphine addict. A doctor had prescribed the drug as a pain killer and she had gotten hooked. Jem's reading distracted her from the withdrawal. She could've died pain-free, but she chose to die without addiction. Atticus then handed Jem a perfect camellia in a box, a gift from the deceased and a sign that everything was now okay. She was at peace.

Jem now understood why Mrs. Dubose was so nasty: she was in pain and going through withdrawals. Choosing to die experiencing so much suffering especially when she didn't have to was certainly a very courageous feat.

 

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

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.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on