What type of courage does Mrs. Dubose teach the children in Chapter 11 of To Kill a Mockingbird?

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In Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Mrs. Dubose makes a terrible and hateful comment about Atticus in front of Scout and Jem. Jem, usually so controlled in his behavior—especially with adults—just snaps.

...for a few minutes he simply went mad.

On their way home from town,...

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In Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Mrs. Dubose makes a terrible and hateful comment about Atticus in front of Scout and Jem. Jem, usually so controlled in his behavior—especially with adults—just snaps.

...for a few minutes he simply went mad.

On their way home from town, Jem takes Scout's new baton (just bought in town) and, like a club, whips off the top of Mrs. Dubose's prized flowers, her camellias.  (Then he breaks the baton.) He is furious.

The children return home and wait for Atticus. He has spoken to Mrs. Dubose by the time he comes home, and Atticus asks why he acted as he did. Jem reports that she insulted Atticus.

...she said you lawed for n***ers and trash.

Atticus expects that Jem has heard worse; regardless of his past behaviors, Atticus sends Jem down to speak to Mrs. Dubose and assume the responsibility of his actions. Atticus punishes Jem by making him spend time with Mrs. Dubose everyday after school. Scout chooses to accompany him. By the time they are released for Jem's "debt," a great deal has happened that the children are not really aware of. In the days to come, Mrs. Dubose dies. Atticus reports to his children that Mrs. Dubose was fighting a horrific battle against a drug addiction, trying to break it so that she could face the end of her life on her terms.

Jem and Scout learn a lesson about bravery. Here is an elderly woman, already very sick, who is addicted to pain medication. As they sit with her each day, Mrs. Dubose is able to go a little while longer without taking more medication, until she is finally free of the drug. She still faces the pain of her disease, but does so with a clear mind, and a will of iron. The children learn that one can overcome seemingly overwhelming obstacles by being committed to a purpose and being very brave. Atticus says of Mrs. Dubose:

You rarely win, but sometimes you do. Mrs. Dubose won, all ninety-eight pounds of her. According to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew.

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As Atticus explained to Jem following the death of Mrs. Dubose, she had "real courage," not the kind that is displayed with a gun. Mrs. Dubose had vowed to kick her morphine addiction before she died, so she decided to go cold turkey. It may have made her more irritable and "cantankerous," but the pain didn't matter to her. Atticus told Jem it was a special kind of courage:

"... it's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. Mrs. Dubose won...

Mrs. Dubose wanted to die drug-free and "beholden to nothing and nobody." Atticus wanted Jem to see this for himself, which was the reason he made his son make his daily visits to read to her.

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It was certainly hard for Jem to comprehend at first, but I believe he came to understand the depths of Mrs. Dubose's courage after Atticus explained all the facts to him. Mrs. Dubose shows that even while facing death, she was willing to commit to completing the painful decision she had made: To kick the morphine habit that had plagued her for so many years. As Atticus explained,

"It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.

Atticus himself tells Jem that courage is not "a man with a gun in his hand." He may have been referring to the adulation that the kids had heaped on him after he had shot the mad dog. He seems to have been telling Jem that Mrs. Dubose's courage far exceeded his own when he picked up a gun for the first time in many years. No doubt Atticus did not consider his act one of bravery, but of necessity.

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Mrs. Dubose was addicted to morphine, However, she is determined to die without this addiction. Although she knows she is going to die and morphine would make her final days more comfortable, she does not want to leave this world reliant on this drug.

 

Atticus explains courage as knowing you are licked before you begin but forging ahead anyway. This is the case with Atticus taking on the Tom Robinson trial. More than likely, he knows he will not win the trail due to the racist attitudes of Maycomb; however, he still does the right thing by trying his hardest to defend and acquit Tom.

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