Why does Jem scream "Why can't she leave me alone?" after Mrs. Dubose dies?

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter 11, Jem ruins Mrs. Dubose's camellia bush after losing his temper, and is forced to read to her each day, including Saturdays, as his punishment. Towards the end of the chapter, Mrs. Dubose passes away and leaves a candy box with one white camellia inside of it. Atticus explains that Mrs. Dubose was terminally ill and became a morphine addict to numb her pain. He tells Jem that his reading distracted her between doses of morphine which helped her overcome her addiction. When Jem opens the candy box and sees the "Snow-on-the-Mountain" flower, he says, "Old hell-devil, old hell-devil!...Why can't she just leave me alone?" (Lee 148) Jem misinterprets the purpose of her gift and Atticus explains that it was her way of telling Jem that everything is alright. Jem is a naive child who doesn't understand the duality of human nature. Jem can only view Mrs. Dubose as a mean old lady, and lacks the ability to understand her softer side. Jem asks the important question, "After all those things she said about you, a lady?" (Lee 149) This question illuminates Jem's innocent psyche. Things are black and white in Jem's mind. When he opens the candy box, he automatically assumes Mrs. Dubose is playing a dirty trick on him "from the grave." Everything he associates with Mrs. Dubose is negative which is why he reacts indignantly towards her gift. 

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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