Jem and Scout have outgrown the practice of bothering Boo. They now encounter Mrs. Dubose, an old woman with a wrathful gaze and a vitriolic tongue, who never fails to shower abuses on Jem and Scout, as well as on Atticus and the entire Finch family. One day, in his anger, Jem cuts down the tops off every camellia bush owned by Mrs. Dubose. Atticus, of course, makes Jem go back and apologize to her. As a punishment, Jem is ordered to go to Mrs. Dubose’s house and read out to her for a month. Everyday, he would read out till the alarm clock, set beside the bed, would ring, signaling the time for him to go home. A month later the reading stops. Some days later, Atticus informs them that Mrs. Dubose had died, leaving a box containing a waxy perfect camellia for Jem. Later on, Jem is told that the reading sessions had been conducted only as a distraction for her to overcome her morphine addiction. Mrs. Dubose had died a free woman.
Jem and Scout have grown up, but they still cannot overcome their anger if anyone passes a comment on their father. Mrs. Dubose comes across to the children as an acidic and garrulous woman who can only say harsh things about others. Yet, Atticus is scrupulous enough to insist that the children respect her for her age.
The evenings in her house, reading to Mrs. Dubose, is a hard task for the children, but the essential reason for it is revealed only after her death. Her desire to get rid of her morphine addiction before her death, reveals her as a strong character, who would rather go through a grueling experience to break the habit of addiction than die as an addict. Her gift to Jem is also typical of her perceptive character. The gift of the camellia shows that she had understood Jem’s anger when he had cut off her camellia bushes. Presenting him with the same flowers is her way of letting him know that she understands his feelings and acknowledges the same.
Atticus emphasizes the fact that whatever Mrs. Dubose went through revealed indisputable courage -- "Its when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through, no matter what." The children learn a great deal about strength of character and grit through their experience with Mrs. Dubose.
Jem shows the typical signs of growing up, with inconsistent moods and a short temper. Scout is advised to let him alone.
When Atticus leaves for town for some official work, Calpurnia takes the children for a service to a black church. Their presence is acknowledged by all the members of the church, except for Lula, a troublemaker, but her stance is overlooked. Scout is amazed at the proceedings, especially at the lack of hymnbooks. She is later told that most of them are uneducated except for a few, including Calpurnia. Calpurnia’s sudden switch to the colored folks’ way of talking, also surprises them, and they realize the somewhat dual life that Calpurnia has to lead.
The preacher, Reverend Sykes virtually commands the people to donate money for Tom Robinson’s wife and children. Jem and Scout donate from their own pockets.
On returning home, they are disappointed to see their Aunt Alexandra in their front porch.
The suffering that Jem undergoes through the process of maturing are not fully comprehended by Scout, who misses his company as well as Dill’s. And her growing is evident too, when she finds kitchen work to have interesting prospects.
The day the children’s time at the black church serves an eye-opener for them. They suddenly realize how inherently different they are from the blacks and how they may have to face mild opposition too. But the heartfelt welcome given by the rest of the members speaks a lot of the basic generous nature of the Blacks. Besides, the children also notice the general wish to help out Tom Robinson. The reason behind Tom’s arrest is revealed, that he had apparently raped Bob Ewell’s daughter.
The reader notices how well Calpurnia (essentially a black), has adjusted herself to the way of life of Atticus’ family; having learnt to read, and even speak like the white folk. At the same time, she hasn’t forgotten her origins, and attends the services with her Negro kin of their own Church, and smoothly switches over to their way of talking when she is with them.
Aunt Alexandra, it is realized (in the next chapter) has come to stay and being a strong influence on the children, a fact which is not quite agreeable to them.
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