Atticus punishes Jem for cutting down Mrs. Dubose's flowers by making him read to her while she is "dozing." Of course, for a young boy, this is torture, but Atticus does not intend for it to be so. He knows that Jem needs to learn a lesson, but more importantly he knows what Mrs. Dubose needs, and Jem is sent to unknowingly help her fulfill her last goal in life.
Jem realizes two truths from the time he spent with Mrs. Dubose.
1. First lesson--not all people are good or evil. When Jem cut down Mrs. Dubose's flowers he did so because of what she said about his father and because she was the "meanest" woman in the neighborhood. At the time, he saw no good in her. However, when Mrs. Dubose dies, she leaves Jem one of her prized flowers, not to taunt him, but to thank him for getting her through a very difficult experience. She shows him that there was some good and graciousness in her.
2. Second lesson--At the end of Chapter 11, Atticus tells Jem about Mrs. Dubose,
" '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' " (112).
At this point, Jem had just discovered that Mrs. Dubose was trying to break herself of her morphine addiction while Jem read to her. She did not want to die being addicted to or controlled by anything or anyone. This lesson from Atticus foreshadows how the children will begin to see their father as a hero in the courtroom when Part 2 begins in the next chapter. Up to Chapter 11 in the novel, the only action on their father's part that truly impressed them was when their dad shot Tim Johnson, the rabid dog. So, Atticus knows that he must demonstrate to his children that heroes do not always resort to violence.