What important lesson does Jem learn from his experience with Mrs. Dubose in To Kill a Mockingbird?
In Chapter 11, Jem is forced to read to Mrs. Dubose as a punishment for destroying her camellia bush. Mrs. Dubose is an ignorant racist who hurls insults at Jem and Scout as they pass her house. She tells Jem that Atticus is no better than the "niggers and trash" he works for and insults Scout for wearing overalls. While Jem reads to her, she continually corrects him and makes negative comments. Later on in the chapter, Atticus gives Jem a gift from Mrs. Dubose, who recently passed away. Inside a cardboard candy box is one white camellia in perfect condition. At first, Jem freaks out and says, "Why can't she leave me alone?" (Lee 148) Atticus tells him to settle down and explains that it was Mrs. Dubose's way of telling Jem that everything is alright. Atticus then tells Jem that she was a great lady who had tremendous courage for battling her morphine addiction. Jem is surprised to hear Atticus speak so highly of the old, cantankerous Mrs. Dubose. Throughout this entire experience, Jem learns an important lesson in the duality of human nature. He learns that even the unfriendly, ignorant Mrs. Dubose has positive characteristics. Jem's childhood innocence led him to generalize all people as either good or bad. In Chapter 11, Jem learns that individuals can have both good and bad qualities. This is one of the many eye-opening experiences that impact Jem's understanding, growth, and moral development.
Through Jem's experience with Mrs. Dubose, he learns that there are consequences for his actions. When he takes Scout's baton and thrashes Mrs. Dubose's camellia bushes, he demonstrates his inability to control his temper in certain situations, thereby causing him to face the consequences of such behavior. Yes, it takes courage to face Mrs. Dubose for a month to read to her, but it is also a very long penance to have to complete for just a few minutes of vengeful satisfaction. If he doesn't want to make up for his misdeeds in such a way again, maybe he will start to think twice before losing his temper. It's a great learning experience for Jem, though. Even though he hates going over to read for a mean, drooling, sick woman, he learns more about her own personal struggles. This helps him to grow as a man, and hopefully it teaches him that it isn't worth losing one's temper over someone else's inability to control their own.
Jem learns courage from Mrs. Dubose. He thinks she is just a mean and angry woman. After Jem destroys her flowers, Atticus orders him to read to her. Atticus hopes that by spending time with her and getting to know her, he will learn a life lesson in not judging a person based only by their actions and rumor. After Jem learns that Mrs. Dubose has a chronic and painful medical condition, his attitude changes. Atticus says she is the bravest person he knows. She has been managing the condition with morphine and has become addicted. The morphine has terrible side effects. Since her condition is terminal, she wants to die with dignity without the morphine. This is why Atticus says she is the bravest person he knows, and Jem learns a lesson in courage.