To Kill A Mockingbird: Novel Summary: Chapters 11-12
Chapter 11: Throughout the book, Scout mentions an old, mean neighbor, Mrs. Dubose. Confined to a wheelchair, Mrs. Dubose snaps at Jem and Scout from her seat on the front porch as they pass. One afternoon, as Jem and Scout pass Mrs. Dubose on their way into town, Mrs. Dubose makes a loud and disparaging remark about Atticus "lawing for niggers" (110). She growls, "Your father's no better than the niggers and trash he works for!" (110). The children bristle with anger as they run off to town. On their way home Jem storms into Mrs. Dubose's yard and tramples her prized camellias. As usual, Atticus has already heard about Jem's behavior before he returns home from work. That evening the children hear Atticus enter the house and they know they're in deep trouble.
Atticus disciplines Jem for killing the camellias by requiring him to read to Mrs. Dubose everyday after school for a month. Scout accompanies Jem on his first trip to Mrs. Dubose's house and the two encounter an interesting scene. When Jem and Scout enter Mrs. Dubose's room they find her lying in her bed, "her face the color of a dirty pillowcase" (115). At first, while Jem reads Ivanhoe, Mrs. Dubose corrects Jem meticulously. As time passes, however, Mrs. Dubose drifts off until an alarm goes off and Mrs. Dubose's nursemaid enters the room to give Mrs. Dubose a dose of medication. Everyday for a month the children follow the same pattern while the time until the alarm sounds steadily increases. Finally, Jem completes his sanction and life returns to normal. Soon after, however, Mrs. Dubose dies and Atticus reveals to Jem why he made Jem read to her in the first place. Mrs. Dubose, Atticus explains, was a morphine addict and knew she was dying. She vowed that she would leave this world "beholden to nothing and nobody" (120). She did break her habit before she died and Atticus wanted to witness this process. Atticus states, "son, I told you that if you hadn't lost your head I'd have made you go read to her. I wanted you to see something about her-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" (121).
Chapter 12: Jem and Scout learn some important lessons in Chapter Twelve. Calpurnia takes the children to her church one Sunday morning. They first face Lula, a black churchgoer who does not want white people in her church. Fortunately, though, the rest of the congregation rally around the group and escort them into the church. Jem and Scout find the services quite similar to those of their own church with the exception of one thing, "linin'." To sing the hymns, the people, most of whom cannot read, "line" the words by repeating them after one person first reads them. When asked about linin', Calpurnia reveals that she is one of the very few black people who knows how to read. Taught to read by Atticus's relatives on Finch Landing, Calpurnia has passed her skills onto her own family. This story illustrates the long history of Finch's supporting black people in certain ways despite the fact that they once owned slaves.