Only cranky, old Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose could cause Jem to "break the bonds" of Atticus's suggestion to " 'You just be a gentleman, son,' " and go stark raving "mad." Jem and Scout had heard Mrs. Dubose's "epithets" about them and Atticus before, but her particularly vile words concerning their father pushed Jem beyond the limits of civility. First, Mrs. Dubose called the children liars, and then she suggested that Scout's unladylike ways would land her "waiting on tables at the O. K. Cafe," which "terrified" Scout. This didn't bother Jem, and he reminded Scout to "hold your head high." But then Mrs. Dubose followed with two insults Jem could not let pass.
"Not only a Finch waiting on tables but one in the courthouse lawing for niggers!" (Chapter 11)
She followed one biting racist remark with another.
"Your father's no better than the niggers and trash he works for!" (Chapter 11)
Jem turned "scarlet" and soon used Scout's brand, new baton to "cut the tops off every camellia bush Mrs. Dubose owned."