The Importance of the Character of Mrs. Dubose in “To Kill a Mockingbird”

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Explore Harper Lee’s characterization of Mrs. Dubose in Chapter 11 and the importance of her character for developing central themes in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Harper Lee’s novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ was written in the 1960s. However, the novel is set in the 1930s, before the Civil Rights Movement in the small town of Maycomb County in Alabama, a microcosm of Southern American society. The novel is narrated by a young girl named Scout, who witnesses the injustice and prejudice in her ignorant town.

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The novel focuses on the biased charge of a young black man accused of raping a white girl. ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ presents the main theme of racism, which was common in the South of America.

In Chapter 11, we meet Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose, the Finch family’s neighbor who is not one of the nicest people in their neighborhood.

Other than Boo Radley, Mrs. Dubose is the ‘monster’ Jem and Scout fear in their neighborhood. Mrs. Dubose is described as ‘plain hell’ by Scout: ‘Jem and I hated her. If she was on the porch when we passed, we would be raked by her wrathful gaze, subjected to ruthless interrogation regarding our behavior, and given a melancholy prediction on what we would amount to when we grew up, which was always nothing.’ The reason why the Finch siblings hated their elderly neighbor so much was not just because ‘she was vicious’, but rather because every time they strolled by, she seemed to enjoy insulting them. With this, Lee makes us understand that Mrs. Dubose looks down on anyone, regardless of their age or race. Mrs. Dubose is a bad-tempered old lady who shows no tolerance for the other inhabitants of Maycomb County, especially the Finch family.

However, through Mrs. Dubose, the two children learn about moral courage, although they don’t even understand it until Atticus explains it to them. Atticus especially admires her for her battle against her morphine addiction. ‘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 see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. […] She was the bravest person I ever knew.’ In Mrs. Dubose’s case, her courage is emphasized by her battle against morphine, even though she knew it was going to be difficult to die without it. In drawing this parallel, Lee makes us understand that Atticus, like Mrs. Dubose, knows he is not going to win the court case, but he does his best anyways. This shows the reader that despite her spiteful character, Mrs. Dubose does her best to fight against her burden, like Atticus, in order to overcome it.

Aside from her being unpleasant, both in her appearance and her actions, she is depicted as very racist and hypocritical. These aspects help the author to develop the main themes in the novel. This is shown by the following extract in which Mrs. Dubose, being racist, insults Scout and Jem’s father, who is defending a black man. “Your father’s no better than the niggers he works for!” Mrs. Dubose uses offensive terms towards the black community, which is hypocritical because she has a black nurse working for her called Jessie. This highlights her hypocritical nature, as Jessie takes care of Mrs. Dubose every day, and the old woman’s entire existence relies on a black woman. Despite the fact that her nurse helps her with her fits and addictions, she still disrespects her because of her race and is incredibly close-minded towards her. In conclusion, Mrs. Dubose is very important in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ because she develops one of the central themes, which is courage. She teaches Jem and Scout moral courage, an aspect of Mrs. Dubose that Atticus admires. Such a minor character like Mrs. Dubose, who appears in Chapter 11 and dies a few pages later, is crucial for the story’s development of the key ideas. She develops the central theme of courage, as described by her battle against her morphine addiction, along with other themes linked to prejudice and racism. This lets us understand that many people were prejudiced at that time, treating the black community as inferior. Despite being very cruel and disrespectful, Lee shows us in the last pages of Chapter 11 that Mrs. Dubose has a heart. She shows it by expressing remorse for how she had treated Jem and Scout before she dies.

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The Importance of the Character of Mrs. Dubose in "To Kill a Mockingbird". (2023, Feb 08). Retrieved from