What does Jem have to do for Mrs. Dubose in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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luannw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In chapter 11, Jem, having gotten fed up with Mrs. Dubose's taunts to him about his father, visciously attacked her prized camellia bushes with Scout's wooden baton and destroyed most of the camellias.  He had to pass by her house quite often and she was a cantankerous woman who was dying.  She disapproved of Atticus's defense of Tom Robinson and said spiteful remarks whenever Jem passed by.  When Jem tore up the camellia's, he did it out of anger at her words.  As a punishment, Atticus made Jem go to Mrs. Dubose's house and apologize.  Mrs. Dubose told him that as payment for the ruined flowers, Jem should read to her every afternoon.  Atticus told him he had to do it for one month but it turned into about a week more than a month.  The real reason that Mrs. Dubose wanted Jem to read to her is that she wanted to die free and clear of the morphine she'd been taking to ease her pain.  The reading distracted her and she did die without the addiction to morphine that she'd had.  Because Jem read to her she was able to die without anything having a hold on her, which was her goal.

teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

After destroying Mrs. Dubose's camellias, Jem has to clean up the mess he left in the old lady's garden, apologize, promise to tend to the camellia bushes, and agree to read to her for at least a month.

In fact, Jem has to read to Mrs. Dubose for two hours every afternoon after school and on Saturdays. Jem is horrified at Mrs. Dubose's request, but Atticus grimly tells him to fulfill his duty to the old lady.

Scout chooses to accompany Jem during the reading sessions. Each session invariably follows a pattern. First, Mrs. Dubose begins by insulting both Jem and Scout. She then rails about favorite subjects like her camellias and Atticus' tendency to represent African American men in court. Then, after tiring herself out with her tirades, Mrs. Dubose usually drifts off to sleep. After the old lady falls asleep, Jessie (Mrs. Dubose's nurse) always sends Jem and Scout home.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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