What request does Mrs. Dubose make of Jem? Is this a fair punishment for his "crime"?

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lsumner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mrs. Dubose insults Atticus as Jem and Scout pass her house. She makes derogatory remarks about Atticus in his defense of Tom Robinson. Jem becomes so angry until he beats her camellia flowers down. As a punishment, Mrs. Dubose demands Jem to read to her six days a week for a month:

For punishment, Mrs. Dubose requires Jem and Scout to visit her six days a week for a month and read to her for two hours. She admits to Atticus and the children that she is requiring them to stay longer each day and that she is extending the total time by a week.

Jem learns his lesson as Mrs. Dubose overcomes a morphine addiction. He reads to her everyday as she struggles through her addiction. A month after reading to Mrs. Dubose, she dies. Jem helped her through a difficult time in her life. Atticus commends Jem for helping Mrs Dubose through her addiction:

After her death Atticus explains to the two children that they helped distract her and helped her die free of any drug addiction. Atticus explains to the children that continuing even when you know you’re licked is true courage. He says Mrs. Dubose is the bravest person he knows.

Atticus teaches his children well. He teaches them to respect all people, regardless their faults. Mrs. Dubose teaches Jem a lesson that will last a lifetime. He helped her die in peace. 

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In chapter 11, Mrs. Dubose makes several derogatory remarks directed at Jem and Scout as they walk past her house. Mrs. Dubose says, "Your father’s no better than the niggers and trash he works for!" (105) This infuriates Jem. As the children are walking back from the store, Jem takes his sister's new baton and destroys Mrs. Dubose's camellia bush. As punishment for ruining her flowers, Atticus makes Jem read to Mrs. Dubose for two hours each day for a month.

After Jem fulfills his punishment, Atticus explains to his son that Mrs. Dubose was suffering from a chronic illness and became addicted to morphine. Before she died, Mrs. Dubose wanted to break her addiction. In order for her to break her addiction, Mrs. Dubose needed something to occupy her mind between her morphine doses. She asked Atticus if Jem could read to her, knowing that Jem's reading would occupy her mind long enough to eventually break her addiction. In my opinion, Jem's punishment is justified because he ended up helping a woman in need. Mrs. Dubose ends up successfully conquering her morphine addiction thanks to Jem's reading.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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