Mrs. Dubose, the Most Complicated Character In To Kill A Mockingbird
In 1960, Harper Lee, an American novelist, wrote a novel that conquered the hearts and minds of millions of readers worldwide. To Kill a Mockingbird is a unique book due to its complexity, and Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose is among the most interesting characters despite having a rather minor role. Lee’s book can be viewed as an onion with multiple layers, and with each part where the events progress, the readers peel off the skin and slowly reveal the hidden core. So, who is Mrs. Dubose?
The description that Lee provides shows her as a soul-sucking superannuated woman, which becomes clear from the moment the audience catches the first glimpse of her and her actions. However, as the novel progresses, the readers begin to unravel her layers and learn that while she may have a fiery demeanor, Mrs. Dubose is fighting and suffering in her determination to be beholden to nobody. The author shifts the readers’ perspective of Mrs. Dubose from a heartless, aging, repulsive racist to a determined fighter, and it makes her character one of the most memorable ones in the book.
Personality of Mrs. Dubose as Perceived by Other Characters
Though the saying ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, words will never hurt me’ implies that physical force can hurt a person but insults cannot, this is not the case with Mrs. Dubose. At times, she is depicted as a fire- breathing dragon who strictly upholds old traditions dictating that whites are superior to blacks. She is not afraid to express her opinions to Jem and Scout, the protagonists. Due to this fact, these children have grown to fear and despise her, as is expressed in Scout’s words, “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…” (Lee, 2018, p. 132). It is important to note that the children’s distaste for Mrs. Dubose is caused by the way she not only hurls insults at them but also her constant stare of disapproval. At the same time, as much as Jem and Scout loathe her, they know to respect their elders and thus do not retaliate, choosing to ignore her instead.
The children have been taught from a young age not to act against Mrs. Dubose, especially Scout, who is known to act impulsively. In particular, Jem advises her to be a bigger person and to ignore the snide remarks that Mrs. Dubose throws at them. In spite of his own advice, though, Jem is the one who snaps and loses control over his behavior when Mrs. Dubose makes a snide comment about his mother. He goes on a heated rampage and storms through Mrs. Dubose’s beloved garden, cutting off the tops of the flowers with Scout’s broken baton. He does so because even though he was young when their mother passed, he still possesses memories of her and cannot handle the hurricane of emotions that swells in him when Mrs. Dubose talks about her. As Mrs. Dubose states, there was no lady lovelier than Jem and Scout’s mother, and it is a shame that Atticus, their father, let them run wild. It can be interpreted as her implication that the children’s mother would never approve of the way they are acting now, which is a painful and deeply insensitive remark. Mrs. Dubose is not fair as both Jem and Scout are good children. Interestingly, the punishment Jem receives for his actions not only helps Mrs. Dubose fight her demons but it also assists the audience in understanding her better.
True Personality of Mrs. Dubose
Under the conditions of Jem reading to Mrs. Dubose for six out of the seven days of the week for two hours, the audience gets a glimpse of her real-life for the first time. She is having suspicious fits, and later, they lead to the revelation that Mrs. Dubose is a morphine addict who wants to pass away as a free person that does not have to depend on anything to function daily. Atticus tells his children, “She said she was going to leave this world beholden to nobody” (Lee, 2018). For this reason, Mrs. Dubose’s character traits are as following, rude and intolerant, unable to cope with her own mood swings. Being an old widow and a struggling morphine addict, her attitude became worse since people tended to avoid her, which made her feel acute loneliness. At the same time, she knew that death was inching closer with every fit she had, which is why she could not be happy and positive.
Although Jem is the one who has to spend time at Mrs. Dubose’s house because of his punishment, Scout is also there to make sure that her brother would not be killed by Mrs. Dubose. At the end of their adventures, they both view the situation differently. The audience learns that when Mrs. Dubose dies, she sends a white camellia top to Jem, which represents longevity and purity in life, much of what Jem embodies. Based on this action, the audience can conclude that sending this flower was Mrs. Dubose’s way of not only thanking him but also showing how children did not know about her long-term morphine addiction, which reflects their innocence and purity.
They were too young to understand what morphine is and how it affects people. Naturally, because he is young, Jem does not make this connection. Instead, he thinks that the flower is “meddling him from the grave” (Lee, 2018). However, Scout listens to Atticus when Mrs. Dubose dies, and it broadens her understanding of not only why she acted the way she did but also shows her how true courage looks like. “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” (Lee, 2018). This realization deeply affects Scout’s understanding of people. In the example of Mrs. Dubose, she understands that real courage is not gained by acting tough but by pursuing a course to improve oneself or society, never backing away even if the toughest obstacles stand in one’s way.
Thus, the audience learns more about Mrs. Dubose as the novel progresses from her being an old malicious lady next door to revealing that in reality, she is a courageous fighter who is battling her addictions. She has depth as a character even though she was only present during one chapter. Her complex personality explains why the readers have mixed feelings about her.
By seeing Mrs. Dubose from To Kill a Mockingbird through Scout’s eyes, the audience learns about the secret double life she was living. They get to know that she was rude toward the townsfolk because of her loneliness and addiction, and in the end, everyone realizes that one of the main character traits of this woman is courage. While she may have looked tough, she had a kind heart, which is evident in how she sent Jem a gift of gratitude, even though he did not see it that way.
The audience and Scout learn a relevant lesson as well because of Mrs. Dubose, understanding what real courage is. The novel To Kill a Mockingbird paints a picture of the old traditions clashing with the innocence and brashness of Jem and Scout. It carefully depicts the struggle of Mrs. Dubose, and as the audience reads on, they peel away layer after layer of her personality, coming to the understanding of who she is and why she is that way, leaving them with ambivalent feelings toward her as a person.
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