The day after Jem's twelfth birthday his money was burning up his pockets, so we headed for town in that early afternoon.
In Chapter 10 of "To Kill a Mockingbird," Jem, accompanied by Scout, is on his way to purchase a miniature steam engine for himself while Scout plans to buy a "twirling baton." As they pass Mrs. Dubose's house, she is "stationed" on her porch, reading to do battle with the children or anyone else who passes.
- Mrs. Dubose first accuses the children of "playing hooky" from school although it is Saturday.
- She accuses Jem of "breaking down" Maudie Atkinson's grape (scuppernong) arbor.
- When Jem contradicts this accusation, she accuses Jem of lying.
- Mrs. Dubose insinuates that Scout, who does not wear dresses, will end up waiting tables at the O.K. Cafe, a rather disreputable place.
- She adds to this insult, "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!"
This final insult causes Jem to turn "scarlet." as Jem and Scout walk away, they hear Mrs Dubose give a "philippic" on their family's "moral degeneration, the major premise of which was that half the Finches were in the asylum anyway."
It is ironic that this encounter with the irascible Mrs. Dubose occurs shortly after Atticus introduces the significance of the novel's title by telling the children "It's a sin to kill a mockingbird." And, after Jem informs his father of the insult dealt him, Attitus, true to character responds in a charitable manner. Afterall, Mrs, Dubose is a wounded mockingbird, in a sense, for, as later revealed, the woman is not herself since she is addicted to a powerful drug, morphine.
Jem had just turned 12 the day before, and had birthday money that "was burning up his pockets", so he and Scout "headed for town in the early afternoon." Jem wanted a steam engine and Scout had her eye on a baton. Unfortunately, on the way there and back, they have to pass Mrs. Dubose's house, where she is always sitting on the porch making cantankerous remarks at people. As they pass her house the first time, she rails on them, criticizing them for "playing hooky" from school, threatening to call the principal (it's a Saturday), saying they shouldn't be going to town alone, accusing them of damaging Miss Maudie's property, and telling Scout she needs to dress more like a lady. But the final insult that made Jem so mad was when she insulted Atticus by saying that he was a Finch
"in the courthouse lawing for niggers...you're father's no better than the niggers and trash he works for!"
She goes on to accuse the Finch family of moral degredation and say half of them were in the asylum anyway. Well, Jem takes the insult at the time, but on the way home can't resist cutting "the tops off every camillia bush Mrs. Dubose owned." The insult to his dad, who was doing a noble thing by defending Tom Robinson, was just too much for Jem, and he freaked out. He paid for it too, as Atticus makes him go clean up, apologize, and read to Mrs. Dubose until she dies.