I Wanted You To See What Real Courage Is

On what page in To Kill a Mockingbird does Atticus say the following to Jem about courage? "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 anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do."

Atticus tells Jem about "real courage" at the very end of chapter 11 in To Kill a Mockingbird when he discusses Mrs. Dubose's death. In the 1982 Warner Books paperback edition, this quote is located on page 115.

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In the 2002 Harper Perennial Modern Classics edition of To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus's lesson on real courage can be found towards the end of chapter eleven on page 128 when he says,

"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. You rarely win, but sometimes you do" (Lee, 128).

Throughout the story, Atticus provides his children with an exemplary moral education by teaching them important life lessons regarding perspective, courage, justice, and sympathy. After Jem loses his temper and destroys his ornery neighbor's camellia bush in a fit of rage, Atticus punishes Jem by making him read to Mrs. Dubose for two hours each day for an entire month.

Mrs. Dubose passes away shortly after Jem's punishment is over, and Atticus explains to his children that she was suffering from a chronic disease and was addicted to morphine. He also mentions that Jem's reading helped Mrs. Dubose conquer her morphine addiction before she passed away and she died as a free "as the mountain air." Atticus goes on to say that Mrs. Dubose was the bravest person he's ever met and her determination to conquer her morphine addiction was a prime example of real courage. Atticus's moving lesson on real courage corresponds with his valiant defense of Tom Robinson. Although Atticus recognizes that he will lose, he follows his conscience and courageously defends Tom Robinson in front of a racist jury and audience. Mrs. Dubose's situation enhances the children's perspective and they are able to recognize their father's courageous defense of Tom Robinson following the trial.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on December 7, 2020
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Page numbers will vary by edition, but as the other answer states, the quote can be found at the end of chapter 11.

The key point is that throughout the novel, Atticus is trying to teach his children a new definition of courage. Part of this is through his reticence to let them know he is a sharpshooter until he has no choice but to display his great skill by killing a rabid dog with one shot. He wants them to understand, however, that there is no courage in such a God-given talent. This is what he means when he says that he doesn't want his children to get the idea that "courage is a man with a gun in his hand."

With the quote in question, he also wants the children to know that beneath her mean and nasty facade, Mrs. Dubose is a woman of great courage because she fights off a morphine addiction before she dies. It doesn't change anything, as she still dies, but it matters to her to die free of her addiction. She displays courage in facing the pain of withdrawal even though she is "licked before . . . [she] begin[s]." Courage, in other words, is doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do, not because there is a reward or "win" at the end.

This connects to Atticus's courage in mounting a real defense of Tom Robinson even though he too "is licked" before he begins. Like Mrs. Dubose, he does the right thing, all the way through to the end.

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Although the page number will vary (depending on the publisher and year of publication), we can be sure that the quote originates from chapter 11 of To Kill a Mockingbird. If you are looking for the quote in the book, it is located at the very end of chapter 11. The edition I am referring to is the 1982 paperback edition, published by Warner Books. It has 284 pages, and the quote in question is on page 115.

The quote is certainly a very important one. In it, Atticus explains that courage is a mental decision. Without mental and emotional fortitude, it is impossible to demonstrate courage when it is most needed. Atticus wanted Jem to distinguish between true courage and the outward appearance of courage. 

To Jem, Mrs. Dubose was a cantankerous old lady. She had a sharp tongue, which she often unleashed on those who offended her. On the surface, there was not much to like about Mrs. Dubose. It was only after her death that Jem learned about her heroic struggle with morphine addiction. Atticus tells Jem that Mrs. Dubose weaned herself from the drug and died a free woman. 

Atticus wanted Jem to learn that even the most controversial characters can surprise us. His words here echo an important quote from the last chapter of the book:

Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. 

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There are several mentions of courage in To Kill A Mockingbird, but the most significant conversation between Atticus and Jem occurs after Mrs. Dubose dies on pg. 149 at the end of chapter 11. Atticus states:

"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. You rarely win, but sometimes you do."

Mrs. Dubose was fighting a morphine addiction. She succeeded in stopping her morphine right before she died. While Jem was reading to her, she was taking less and less.

Atticus wants Jem to get to know Mrs. Dubose because she is demonstrating a different kind of courage. It’s not a physical kind of courage like facing down a mad dog. It’s a more important kind of courage- mental courage, and courage in the face of emotional and physical pain.

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