In To Kill a Mockingbird, how is the characterization of Mrs. Dubose developed with dialogue and symbol? Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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After Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose's death, Atticus Finch tells his children in what seems strangely ironic in light of the insults she has hurled at him,

"You know, she was a great lady....She had her own views about things, a lot different from mine, maybe...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. According to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody.  She was the bravest person I ever knew."

Having taken herself off the morphine that she has used for years for her pain, Mrs. Dubose has, indeed, displayed true courage.  Then, in a symbolic gesture, she has sent Jem a beautiful white camellia in a candy box.  This pristine flower, the state flower of Alabama, in waxy white like a Southern Belle, represents admiration, perfection, and nobility of reasoning--truly a symbol of Mrs. Dubose's change of attitude toward Jem.("I think that was her way of telling you everything's all right, Jem," Atticus says to his son.)

Another symbol representative of Mrs. Dubose is the old courthouse in its stubborn stateliness of structure, but its decadence of ideals. Like the fading daylight that Scout describes after she and Jem arrive home, having received Mrs. Dubose's insults, Mrs. Dubose, too, is fading from life. Of course, a reminder to Jem will be the books from which he has read to her as she lies in her bed.  During the day, she sometimes sits in a wheelchair, but later she cannot even get out of bed.

 

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