To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 11 Summary and Analysis
by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Chapter 11 Summary and Analysis

This chapter focuses on Mrs. Dubose, the cantankerous old woman who sits out on her porch and yells terrible things at the children of Maycomb. She's so mean, in fact, that Cecil Jacobs walks a mile out of his way just to avoid her house. One Saturday, the day after Jem's twelfth birthday, he and Scout walk into town to buy a steam engine and a baton, and on their way there Mrs. Dubose yells at them that Atticus is "no better than the niggers and trash he works for!" This is racist and classist and makes Jem so mad that after he buys their toys, he takes Scout's baton and hacks all the blooms off Mrs. Dubose's camellia bushes. Naturally, this doesn't go over well with Atticus.

Download To Kill a Mockingbird Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Jem's punishment is to read to Mrs. Dubose for two hours every day after school and on Saturday for an entire month. During this process, Mrs. Dubose's health deteriorates to the point where her mouth seems to move of its own volition, allowing great ropes of saliva to pour out of her mouth. After she dies, Atticus reveals that she was a morphine addict and that she'd quit cold turkey around the same time Jem destroyed her camellias. She was sick because she was going through withdrawal while Jem and Scout sat with her. Because of this, Atticus thinks Mrs. Dubose is the bravest person that he has ever met. This is an important lesson about courage for Jem and Scout. Part I ends with Jem thinking about Mrs. Dubose's bravery while staring at a camellia.


Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. This is the first book Jem reads to Mrs. Dubose. It's about a young nobleman who is disinherited by his father and winds up going on an adventure, first being wounded in a tournament, and then being captured by his enemies, before finally marrying his true love, Lady Rowena. This story of knights and valor appeals to Jem, and it allows Lee to build on the theme of courage.


Jem vs. Mrs. Dubose. Scout's narration makes it seem like Mrs. Dubose has ongoing conflicts with almost every single character in the novel. Of these conflicts, the biggest and most important is between her and Jem. He's so upset over her calling Atticus trash that he destroys her camellias, and as punishment he's forced to read to her six days a week for over a month. During her lifetime, these two are never able to reconcile, but after she dies, Jem begins to understand why she was the way she was.


An example of this would be when Scout and Jem wait for Atticus after Jem destroys all of Mrs. Dubose's camellia bushes. Scout says, "Two geological ages later," Atticus returns, which clearly exaggerates how long it took and builds on the theme of time.


Camellias.  Mrs. Dubose leaves a single Snow-on-the-Mountain camellia for Jem after she dies. This flower alone symbolizes the end of their conflict, embodying Mrs. Dubose's...

(The entire section is 747 words.)