I often wonder what sort of old person I will be. I assume I’ll be the kind that hangs around Cracker Barrel a lot and tells everyone all the family secrets by putting them as my Facebook status. I don’t think I will be a Mrs. Dubose. I just don’t have it in me to be a Mrs. Dubose. Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose is the Finches’ elderly, cantankerous neighbor who’s always sitting on her porch and shouting verbal abuse at children, and in chapter 11, we get up close and personal with her.
Scout says that Mrs. Dubose is a horrible woman. She never misses a chance to insult Scout’s overalls, and rumor has it she keeps a pistol concealed in her lap at all times. Scout also mentions that Mrs. Dubose drools and spits when she talks. Given what we’ve learned so far, I’m convinced that this is fully a picture of Scout, Jem, Mrs. Dubose’s girl, Jessie, and Mrs. Dubose herself:
Jem and Scout have to pass by her house every day to get to town, and they always dread doing it. This is more or less how I feel when I have to walk past a roving pack of eighth graders at the mall. Eighth graders are terrifying. They’ll zero in on your weaknesses and mock you without mercy. At best, they’ll merely ruin your day. At worst, they’ll curse you with the date of your death.
Anyway, Mrs. Dubose calls Scout ugly and threatens to get Jem into trouble for something stupid, and that’s fine. That happens all the time. But then she insults Atticus for taking the Tom Robinson case, and this really grinds Jem’s gears.
Mrs. Dubose is no longer on the porch by the time Scout and Jem pass by her house again. So, naturally, Jem decides to completely lose his goddamn mind. This is just like that time Harry lost his temper and blew up Aunt Marge. Now, I have no doubt that we’d all like to see Mrs. Dubose bouncing around on the ceiling like a Mylar balloon, but Jem doesn’t think to do that. Instead, he cuts up Mrs. Dubose’s flowers with a toy baton he just bought for Scout, then snaps the baton and leaves the pieces behind.
I can’t say for sure why he pulled THAT idiotic move. If he’d just taken it, he could have claimed some plausible deniability. But no. He leaves the murder weapon just lying there in the middle of the flower massacre, like some kind of amateur. It doesn’t exactly take a forensic team to figure out what happened.
You know what? I’m just going to say it: the Finches are too friendly with their neighbors. This whole mess could’ve been avoided if they had just ignored their neighbors like the rest of us. Living in a small town is no excuse. I live in a small town, and I don’t know any of the people with whom I share curt hallway nods. There’s the guy who lives below me and plays the electric guitar, and there’s the old lady next-door who never makes eye contact with me and steals my mail, but do you think I know their names or their backstories? Please.
When Atticus gets home, he asks Jem if he’s responsible for the carnage in Mrs. Dubose’s front yard. Jem admits to it, and Atticus says treating a “sick old lady” like that is “inexcusable.” He’s unmoved when Jem explains what Mrs. Dubose called him. Atticus is used to it. Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt and wore it out. He tells Jem to go over there and make it right.
As punishment for laying waste to her flowers, Mrs. Dubose wants Jem to read books to her every day after school. Scout doesn’t have to—all she’s guilty of is having someone break her baton—but she tags along anyway. Mrs. Dubose alternately insults them, spits on them, and has these weird fits that neither Scout nor Jem can explain. They do this for a month, for longer and longer stretches each time, until at last Mrs. Dubose says they’re free to go.
One day Atticus comes home to tell them that Mrs. Dubose has died. Jem’s feelings on this subject are pretty much my feelings when someone tells me Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is their favorite Pirates of the Caribbean movie:
“She’s dead, son,” said Atticus. “She died a few minutes ago.”
“Oh,” said Jem. “Well.”
Atticus explains that Mrs. Dubose was a morphine addict. Her fits were a result of the withdrawal. She knew she didn’t have much time, and she was determined to kick the habit before she died. She had Jem come over to read to her to help keep her mind off of it.
“She said she was going to leave this world beholden to nothing and nobody. Jem, when you’re sick as she was, it’s all right to take anything to make it easier, but it wasn’t all right for her. She said she meant to break herself of it before she died, and that’s what she did.”
Which is all very Important and Symbolic, sure, but all I can think is that Mrs. Dubose would have 100% stared straight at the sun during the solar eclipse. You know, just to show it who’s really in charge here. Beholden to nothing and nobody indeed.
“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 anyway and you see it through no matter what. 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.”
THIS AND THAT
Jem reads Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanoe to Mrs. Dubose. Among other things, it’s about prejudice, morality, and justice. Sound familiar?
Mrs. Dubose leaves behind a white camellia for Jem, which is the type of flower he cut up in her yard.
What does Mrs. Dubose’s struggle—and the lessons it teaches Scout and Jem—foreshadow for the upcoming trial? What does it say about Atticus?