What does Mrs. Dubose say to Jem that upsets him? Why does Scout think this is worse than other insults she's heard about Atticus?  

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The children have to pass Mrs. Dubose's house when they walk to the center of town, the store, or the courthouse. As Jem and Scout are headed to the store one day to buy her a baton, Mrs. Dubose verbally explodes as usual:

"Your father's no better than the ni****s and trash he works for!" (102).

Scout says that "Jem was scarlet," as she pulled him along. Mrs. Dubose didn't stop there. She yelled after them about how all of the Finches end up in mental hospitals and they wouldn't be in this mess if their mother had not died. All of these things were just too much for Jem to bear. Scout even says the following:

"I wasn't sure what Jem resented most, but I took umbrage at Mrs. Dubose's assessment of the family's mental hygiene. I had become almost accustomed to hearing insults aimed at Atticus. But this was the first one coming from an adult" (102).

Up until chapter 11, Scout has heard insults about her father from Cecil Jacobs and her second cousin Francis who are both children. This is why Scout thinks Mrs. Dubose's comments are worse--because she's an adult. It's one thing for kids to say mean things during recess, but it's another when adults are actually saying the same horrible things in public. This causes Scout more concern about the situation they are facing as her dad prepares for the Tom Robinson trial. 

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter 11, Jem and Scout pass Mrs. Dubose's house on their way to the store. Mrs. Dubose is an ignorant, cantankerous woman who commonly expresses her displeasure to the Finch children whenever they walk by her home. As Jem and Scout are walking by, Mrs. Dubose ridicules Atticus by saying,

"Not only a Finch waiting on tables but one in the courthouse lawing for niggers!...Your father's no better than the niggers and trash he works for!" (Lee 64).

Her comments about Atticus upset Jem who furiously walks away. As the children leave, Mrs. Dubose continues to criticize the Finches by commenting that half of their family needed to be in an asylum. Scout is used to hearing insults from children directed at Atticus, but this was the first time she heard an adult make derogatory comments about her father. In Scout's opinion, hearing an adult insult Atticus is worse than hearing it from a child. On their way home from the store, Jem cannot control his anger and ends up destroying Mrs. Dubose's camellia bush. 

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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