In "To Kill a Mockingbird", what does Atticus do that causes Scout to say he was the bravest man who ever lived?Chapter 11
Whenever Scout and Jem wanted to go to town for any reason, they had to pass the house of Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose, an old, sick woman who lived alone with a Negro girl "in constant attendance". Mrs. Dubose was mean and abusive, subjecting the children to a "wrathful gaze" and "ruthless interrogation" whenever they passed by. Nothing they did would please her; "she was vicious". Mrs. Dubose was especially critical of Atticus, lamenting the way he let his children run wild. In a loud, raucous voice she would call Scout and Jem "the sassiest, most disrespectful mutts who ever passed her way".
Atticus counseled the children to be patient with Mrs. Dubose, telling them that she was old and ill. He says, "whatever she says to you, it's your job not to let her make you mad". Atticus himself would go out of his way to be nice to the abusive woman, taking off his hat each day when he passed by with the children, waving, sharing with her the courthouse news, and wishing her a good day even as she hollered epithets back at him. Scout was amazed that her father, who "hated guns and had never been to any wars", had the courage to face Mrs. Dubois everyday with such cheerfulness and aplomb. "It was times like these" when she felt he was "the bravest man who ever lived" (Chapter 11).
Mrs. Dubose is just one of many colorfully grotesque characters in To Kill A Mockingbird. She's a deeply unpleasant old woman, who yells abuse at Scout and Jem whenever they walk past. It's even been rumored that she has an old Confederate pistol hidden underneath her shawls—but the old lady doesn't need a gun to scare people; her vicious tongue is more than capable.
Thankfully, Atticus has the benefit of age as well as wisdom. He knows that Mrs. Dubose is just a sick old lady who's really quite harmless. Each day, as he walks past her house, Atticus politely doffs his hat and wishes her a cheery good morning. It's this that prompts Scout's quotation about her father being the bravest man who ever lived.
But Scout learns something else about bravery from Atticus. Mrs. Dubose is a morphine addict who's vowed to quit before she dies. Atticus tells Scout that, because of this, she's the bravest person he ever knew. He elaborates further:
"[R]eal courage is . . . when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what."