Throughout Chapter 11, Mrs. Dubose hurls insults at Jem and Scout each time they walk past her porch. Jem is constantly upset over the comments Mrs. Dubose makes. Atticus is always quick to calm him down and encourage him to act like a gentleman.
Atticus says, “She’s an old lady and she’s ill. You just hold your head high and be a gentleman. Whatever she says to you, it’s your job not to let her make you mad.”
Anytime Scout, Jem, and Atticus would come past her house, Atticus would take off his hat and wave at her, saying, “Good evening, Mrs. Dubose! You look like a picture this evening.” Scout says that after his polite exchanges with Mrs. Dubose, she felt that he was the bravest man who ever lived.
One day, Jem and Scout are walking to town to spend Jem’s birthday money, when Mrs. Dubose accuses Jem of breaking down her scuppernong arbor. After Jem contradicts her, she says to Scout,
“What are you doing in those overalls? You should be in a dress and camisole, young lady! You’ll grow up waiting on tables if somebody doesn’t change your ways—a Finch waiting on tables at the O.K. Café---hah!” Then she follows up with a racist insult by saying, “Not only a Finch waiting on tables but one in the courthouse lawing for niggers!”
Her offensive comments push Jem past his limits, and he ends up ruining her camellia bushes with Scout’s new baton. Atticus handles the situation with a cool head and explains to Jem that Mrs. Dubose is old and ill.
He says, “You can’t hold her responsible for what she says and does. Of course, I’d rather she’d have said it to me than to either of you but we can’t always have our ‘druthers.”
Atticus is constantly responding to adversity in a polite manner, and being the quintessential role model for his children. Atticus explains the importance of acting civil in the face of ignorance and anger.