In To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, other than when Jem cuts off the heads of her flowers, what is one quote that Mrs. Dubose says that shows she demonstrates the destructiveness of prejudice?

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Chapter 11 is where the saga between the Finch children and Mrs. Dubose unfolds. It's really sad that a neighbor who respects the children's mother would turn so verbally abusive towards them after her death. The kids hear rude things about their father taking a black man's case at school from immature classmates; but when an adult gets involved, it really cuts deep. The phrase that turns Jem's heart to wiping out the tops of Mrs. Dubose's camellia bushes is when she says, "Your father's not better than the ni****s and trash he works for!" (102). Jem's penance is to read to the old woman every day after school for two hours. 

During his time there, Mrs. Dubose is in and out of consciousness. But at the beginning of each session, Scout tells Atticus that she warms up before Jem reads by verbally attacking their father. Scout explains as follows:

". . . everything would begin normally--that is, Mrs. Dubose would hand Jem for a while on her favorite subjects, her camellias and our father's ni****-loving propensities; she would grow increasingly silent, then go away from us. The alarm clock would ring, Jessie would shoo us out, and the rest of the day was ours" (108).

Atticus isn't shocked, necessarily, to hear that Mrs. Dubose calls him a "ni****-lover," but he asks Scout why it hurts her so much. Scout doesn't know how to articulate it other than to say it sounds worse than being called "snot-nose."

The fact that Mrs. Dubose has no verbal filter and no respect for children's young ears is atrocious. Not only that, but by using "ni****-lover" as freely as if she were saying "hello" to someone, she proves what type of terrible person she is. All of these character traits are prejudiced; and, they are destructive for herself, the children, and the community. 

Fortunately for Scout, her father doesn't let that prejudiced phrase hurt him. He explains to his daughter the following about Mrs. Dubose and people like her who use that phrase:

". . . trashy people use it when they think somebody's favoring Negroes over and above themselves. . . It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn't hurt you" (108).

Atticus empowers his daughter against "trashy people," but that doesn't mean he condones what she says. The fact remains that Mrs. Dubose's use of the phrase is destructive and prejudiced.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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