To Kill a Mockingbird Questions and Answers
by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird book cover
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Who said “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyways and see it through no matter what."   

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Atticus said this about Mrs. Dubose, who fought her addiction and won.

Atticus knows that his children are struggling with the town’s reaction to his defending Tom Robinson.  This is why he sends Jem to read to Mrs. Dubose after he destroys her flowers.  He tells Jem he would have done it anyway, because he wanted them to see Mrs. Dubose beat her addiction.

Mrs. Dubose is a horrible mean old lady who lives on the Finches’ street.  She often insults them, but when Atticus is defending Tom Robinson her insults get worse.

“Yes indeed, what has this world come to when a Finch goes against his raising? I’ll tell you!” She put her hand to her mouth. When she drew it away, it trailed a long silver thread of saliva. “Your father’s no better than the niggers and trash he works for!” (Ch. 11)

Jem’s punishment for destroying the flowers is for Jem to go read to Mrs. Dubose each night.  She sets a timer.  The amount that he reads gets longer and longer.  He also notices that she is sharp at first, always correcting him, but the longer he reads the quieter and sicker she gets.  Atticus tells him she was addicted to the pain killer morphine.  She wanted to die having weaned herself off of it.

Atticus wanted to use this a lesson about moral courage.  Courage is more than facing someone down with a gun.  It is sticking to something difficult.

“… 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.” (Ch. 11) 

This lesson is important because Scout and Jem will have to face people during the trial.  They have to understand why Atticus is doing it.  He is defending Tom Robinson because it is something he believes is right.  It is worth doing, even if it is hard, and even though it is going to be almost impossible to win.

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