Mrs. Dubose, The Most Complicated Character in to Kill a Mockingbird

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About this sample


Words: 1323 |

Pages: 3|

7 min read

Published: Mar 15, 2022

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Words: 1323|Pages: 3|7 min read

Published: Mar 15, 2022

Mrs. Dubose, the Most Complicated Character In To Kill A Mockingbird
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In "To Kill a Mockingbird," Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose initially appears as a mean and repulsive woman. However, as the story progresses, readers discover her complexity. She battles a terminal illness and morphine addiction, showcasing remarkable courage. Atticus teaches the children that true courage involves facing adversity, reframing Mrs. Dubose as a symbol of resilience. Her gesture of gratitude towards Jem humanizes her, emphasizing her desire for personal redemption. Mrs. Dubose's character challenges initial perceptions, highlighting the intricacies of human nature. Courage is a central theme in the novel, and Mrs. Dubose embodies this virtue in an unexpected way. Afflicted by a terminal illness, she grapples with a morphine addiction, which she is determined to overcome before her death. This battle against her own body and mind demonstrates remarkable courage, as she strives to die free from the grip of addiction. Her commitment to this arduous journey serves as a powerful testament to her strength.

Table of contents

  1. Personality of Mrs. Dubose as Perceived by Other Characters
  2. True Personality of Mrs. Dubose
  3. Conclusion
  4. The Perspective of an Old Lady: Analysis of Mrs. Dubose 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?

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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.

The Perspective of an Old Lady: Analysis of Mrs. Dubose in To Kill A Mockingbird

Life is merely a perspective. Some say that you have your whole life to do something, while others will argue that life is short, and you should enjoy it. We are all going to get old one day, but before that: we need to try our best to give, love, and learn! To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, is a significant novel that shows characters with different personalities expressing the theme of courage. The character Henry Lafayette Dubose from To Kill A Mockingbird novel is a mean, courageous, and repulsive old woman.

To begin, among the children of Maycomb it is accepted that Mrs. Dubose is a mean old lady...“Mrs. Dubose lived two doors up the street from us; neighborhood opinion was unanimous that Mrs. Dubose was the meanest old woman who ever lived,” (Lee 46). She regularly insults and harasses Jem and Scout as they walk by her house: she always calls their father (Atticus Finch) bad names. Not only she is mean but also nothing pleases her; for example, when Scout says hey for her, Mrs. Dubose answers her, ““Don’t you say hey to me, you ugly girl! You say good afternoon, Mrs. Dubose!””. She heartlessly calls Scout an ugly girl for saying hey to her without thinking further of how a young girl like Scout would feel. Nonetheless, she is mean and traditionalist old lady, Scout loves to wear overalls, but when Mrs. Dubose sees her in overalls she starts insulting her for not dressing as a girl, ““What are you doing in those overalls? You should be in a dress and camisole, young lady! You’ll grow up waiting on tables if somebody doesn't change your ways---a Finch waiting on tables at the O.K. Cafe--hah!””. Mrs. Dubose is interfering in Scout’s affairs: she is making a young girl feel uncomfortable about her appearance, and the way she dresses; in addition to, she is traditionalist that she thinks a girl should not be in overalls. Mrs. Dubose is an old lady; no one can blame her for being traditionalist since some people could take advantages from her.

Furthermore, courage is notably revealed in the novel by Mrs. Dubose. Although she is known as a mean repulsive lady, Mrs. Dubose proves that she is courageous. Due to her terminal illness, she is addicted to morphine. ““She said she was going to leave this world beholden to nothing and nobody”” (Lee 148). The process of eliminating the drug out of Mrs. Dubose's system is extremely challenging; she is not only battling her body, but also her mind. Moreover, as Atticus says to Jem, Mrs. Dubose is in an exceedingly a lot of pain, ““Most of time you were reading to her, I doubt if she heard a word you said. Her whole mind and body were concentrated on that alarm clock””. The fact that Mrs. Dubose realizes that the road she is taking is restless and painful; she endeavors to get clean. She remains determined and courageous continuously until she dies: challenging her body and mind to end her morphine addiction. Nonetheless, at the end of Chapter 11, Atticus explains for Jem how Mrs. Dubose is courageous even though she seems hateful, he shows Jem how she takes that stand for herself. ““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... She was the bravest person I ever knew””. Mrs. Dubose is a prominent representative of different varieties of courage, informing that there are various ways to be courageous.

Last, but not least, Mrs. Dubose is repulsive as Scout's observations. When Atticus banishes Jem to read to Mrs. Dubose for destroying her flowers, Scout decides to take the adventure and go with him; nevertheless, when they enter Mrs. Dubose’s house, they smell an oppressive smell. “An oppressive odor met us when we crossed the threshold, an odor I had met many times in rain-rotted, gray houses where there are coal-oil lamps, water dippers, and unbleached domestic sheet” (Lee 141). This quote explains how Scout thinks that Mrs. Dubose’s house is a moldy decay: she is old, and the house is decaying around her, simply it will smell of rotting. Similarly to her appearance, as Scout says, “She was horrible. Her face was the colour of a dirty pillowcase, and the corners of her mouth glistened with wet, which inched like a glacier down the deep grooves enclosing her chin”. Scout expresses how Mrs. Dubose’s appearance is as oppressive as her house. Mrs. Dubose is old and up to die; the way she acts in bed makes her look disgusting in front of two immature children. By the same token, when Jem and Scout return home, Atticus asks Jem if Mrs. Dubose frightens him, Jem replies, ““No sir, but she’s so nasty. She has fits or somethin’. She spits a lot””. Jem in this quote shows how he feels about Mrs. Dubose when he spends time with her: similarly to Scout’s feelings about the old lady. Since Jem and Scout do not understand the sickness and pain that Mrs. Dubose suffers from, it is easy for them to view her as a repulsive old lady than a sick old lady.

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To conclude, the character Henry Lafayette Dubose taught Jem and Scout to believe in their choices and to understand courage from her point of view. Mrs. Dubose is mean, courageous, and repulsive and courage was successfully portrayed by her thoughts, actions, and patient. The most important thing that everyone can learn from Mrs. Dubose is that people can be the greatest enemy of themselves and destroy others because they do not understand that everyone has different perspectives. However, if people take a more profound look and try to get to know others more, they will understand each other's messages and learn from each others point of views.

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Mrs. Dubose, the Most Complicated Character In To Kill A Mockingbird. (2022, March 15). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 13, 2024, from
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