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Lingvistov Reading Club: To Kill a Mockingbird - Chapter 11

Pre-Reading Tasks
Find out information about the following:
  1. Why did Civil War happen in the USA? Why was it divided into southern and northern states?
  2. When was slavery abolished in the USA?
  3. What was the attitude of the white people towards the black people? And vice versa?
To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee
Chapter 11
Easy does it – Не спеши; расслабься! не принимай близко к сердцу!
twirling baton – жезл для жонглирования
“Ivanhoe” by Sir Walter Scott – “Айвенго” Сэр Вальтер Скотт
fits - припадки
Main characters of the book:
Jem and Scott (the narrator) are brother and sister.
Atticus is their father.
Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose is their sick neighbour.
When we were small, Jem and I frequently went past the property of Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose. Previous minor encounters with her left me with no desire for more, but Jem said I had to grow up some time. Mrs. Dubose lived alone except for a Negro girl in constant attendance. She was very old; she spent most of each day in bed and the rest of it in a wheelchair. People said that she kept a pistol concealed among her numerous shawls.

Jem and I hated her. If she was on the porch when we passed, we would be given a prediction on what we would become when we grew up, which was always nothing. Jem had concluded that it was cowardly to stop at Miss Rachel’s front steps and wait, and had decreed that we must run as far as the post office corner each evening to meet Atticus coming from work. Countless evenings Atticus would find Jem furious at something Mrs. Dubose had said when we went by.

“Easy does it, son,” Atticus would say. “She’s an old lady and she’s ill. You just hold your head high and be a gentleman. Whatever she says to you, it’s your job not to let her make you mad.” When the three of us came to her house, Atticus would wave gallantly to her and say, “Good evening, Mrs. Dubose! You look like a picture this evening.” I never heard Atticus say like a picture of what. It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.

The day after Jem’s twelfth birthday his money was burning up his pockets, so we headed for town in the early afternoon. Jem thought he had enough to buy a miniature steam engine for himself and a twirling baton for me.

Mrs. Dubose was on her porch when we went by.

“Where are you two going at this time of day?” she shouted.

“Aw, it’s Saturday, Mrs. Dubose,” said Jem.

Makes no difference if it’s Saturday,” she said obscurely. “I wonder if your father knows where you are?”

“Mrs. Dubose, we’ve been going to town by ourselves since we were this high.” Jem placed his hand palm down about two feet above the sidewalk.

“Don’t you contradict me!” Mrs. Dubose bawled. “And you—” she pointed an arthritic finger at me—“what are you doing in those clothes? You should be in a dress, young lady! You’ll grow up waiting on tables—hah!”

“Come on, Scout,” Jem whispered. “Don’t pay any attention to her, just hold your head high and be a gentleman.”

But Mrs. Dubose held us: “Not only a Finch waiting on tables but one in the courthouse lawing for niggers!”

Jem stiffened. Mrs. Dubose’s shot had gone home and she knew it:

“Your father’s no better than the niggers and trash he works for!”

Jem was scarlet. I pulled at his sleeve, and we went down the sidewalk to the downtown.

Jem bought his steam engine and we went to buy me a baton. Jem took no pleasure in his acquisition; he jammed it in his pocket and walked silently beside me toward home. When we approached Mrs. Dubose’s house, we saw she was not on the porch.

In later years, I sometimes wondered exactly what made Jem do it, what made him break the bonds of “You just be a gentleman, son.” He had a naturally tranquil disposition. At the time, however, I thought the only explanation for what he did was that for a few minutes he simply went mad.

We had just come to her gate when Jem snatched my baton and ran up the steps into Mrs. Dubose’s front yard, forgetting everything Atticus had said, forgetting that she packed a pistol under her shawls.

He did not begin to calm down until he had cut the tops off every camellia bush Mrs. Dubose owned, until the ground was littered with green buds and leaves. He bent my baton against his knee, snapped it in two and threw it down.

We did not choose to meet Atticus coming home that evening. We skulked around the kitchen until Calpurnia threw us out. Two geological ages later, we heard the soles of Atticus’s shoes scrape the front steps. The door slammed, there was a pause and we heard him call, “Jem!” His voice was like the winter wind. Atticus carried my baton in one hand. He held out his other hand; it contained fat camellia buds.

“Jem,” he said, “are you responsible for this?”

“Yes sir.”

“Why’d you do it?”

Jem said softly, “She said you lawed for niggers and trash.” “You did this because she said that?”

Jem’s lips moved, but his, “Yes sir,” was inaudible.

“Son, I have no doubt that you’ve been annoyed by people talking about me lawing for niggers, as you say, but to do something like this to a sick old lady is inexcusable. I strongly advise you to go down and have a talk with Mrs. Dubose,” said Atticus. “Come straight home afterward.”

Jem did not move.

“Go on, I said.”

I followed Jem out of the livingroom. “Come back here,” Atticus said to me. I came back.

Atticus picked up the newspaper and sat down in the rocking chair. For the life of me, I did not understand how he could sit there in cold blood and read when his only son stood an excellent chance of being murdered with a mad lady. Atticus did not seem to realize this, or if he did he didn’t care.

When Jem returned, Atticus said, “Well, son?”. Jem seemed to be all in one piece, but he had a queer look on his face.

“I cleaned it up for her and said I was sorry, but I am not.”

“There was no point in saying you were sorry if you aren’t,” said Atticus. “Jem, she’s old and ill. You can’t hold her responsible for what she says and does.”

“Atticus,” Jem said, “she wants me to read to her.”

“Read to her?”

“Yes sir. She wants me to come every afternoon after school and Saturdays and read to her out loud for two hours. Atticus, do I have to?”


“But she wants me to do it for a month.”

“Then you’ll do it for a month.”

The following Monday afternoon Jem and I climbed the steep front steps to Mrs. Dubose’s house. Jem, armed with “Ivanhoe”, knocked at the second door on the left. In the corner of the room was a bed, and in the bed was Mrs. Dubose. For a moment I felt sorry for her. She was lying under a pile of quilts and looked almost friendly.

There was a washstand by her bed; on it were a glass, a red ear syringe, a box of cotton, and an alarm clock.

“So you brought that dirty little sister of yours, did you?” was her greeting.

Jem said quietly, “My sister isn’t dirty and I am not scared of you,” although I noticed his knees shaking.

I was expecting a tirade, but all she said was, “You may commence reading, Jeremy.”

Jem sat down on a chair and opened “Ivanhoe”. I pulled up another one and sat beside him.

“Come closer,” said Mrs. Dubose. “Come to the side of the bed.”

We moved our chairs forward. This was the nearest I had ever been to her. She was horrible. Her face was the color of a dirty pillowcase, and the corners of her mouth glistened with wet. Old-age liver spots dotted her cheeks, and her pale eyes had black pinpoint pupils.

Jem reopened Ivanhoe and began reading. When he came to a word he didn’t know, he skipped it, but Mrs. Dubose would catch him and make him spell it out. As he read along, I noticed that Mrs. Dubose’s corrections grew fewer, that Jem had even left one sentence dangling in mid-air. She was not listening.

I looked toward the bed. Something had happened to her. Her head moved slowly from side to side. From time to time she would open her mouth wide, and I could see her tongue. Saliva would collect on her lips. Occasionally she would say, “Pt.”.

I pulled Jem’s sleeve. Jem looked up and said, “Mrs. Dubose, are you all right?” She did not hear him. The alarm clock went off and scared us stiff.

It was only three forty-five when we got home. Jem told Atticus what happened.

“Did she frighten you?” asked Atticus.

“No sir,” said Jem, “but she’s so nasty. She has fits or something. She spits a lot.” “She can’t help that. When people are sick they don’t look nice sometimes.”

“She scared me,” I said.

Atticus looked at me over his glasses. “You don’t have to go with Jem, you know.” The next afternoon at Mrs. Dubose’s was the same as the first, and so was the next, until gradually a pattern emerged: everything would begin normally—that is, Mrs. Dubose would hound Jem for a while on her favorite subjects, her camellias and our father’s nigger-loving; she would grow silent, then go away from us. The alarm clock would ring, Jessie would shoo us out, and the rest of the day was ours.

“Atticus,” I said one evening, “what exactly is a nigger-lover?”

Atticus’s face was grave. “Has somebody been calling you that?”

“No sir, Mrs. Dubose calls you that. She warms up every afternoon calling you that.

“Scout,” said Atticus, “nigger-lover is just one of those terms that don’t mean anything. It’s hard to explain—ignorant, trashy people use it when they think somebody’s favoring Negroes over and above themselves.”

“You aren’t really a nigger-lover, then, are you?”

“I certainly am. I do my best to love everybody... I’m hard put, sometimes—baby, it’s never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn’t hurt you. So don’t let Mrs. Dubose get you down. She has enough troubles of her own.”

One afternoon a month later Jem was reading Sir Walter Scout, as Jem called him, and Mrs. Dubose was correcting him, when there was a knock on the door. Atticus came in. He went to the bed and took Mrs. Dubose’s hand. “I was coming from the office and didn’t see the children,” he said. “I thought they might still be here.”

Mrs. Dubose smiled at him. “Do you know what time it is, Atticus?” she said. “Exactly fourteen minutes past five. The alarm clock’s set for five-thirty. I want you to know that.”

It suddenly came to me that each day we had been staying a little longer at Mrs. Dubose’s, that the alarm clock went off a few minutes later every day, and that she was well into one of her fits by the time it sounded. Today she had antagonized Jem for nearly two hours with no intention of having a fit, and I felt hopelessly trapped. The alarm clock was the signal for our release; if one day it did not ring, what would we do?

“I have a feeling that Jem’s reading days are numbered,” said Atticus.

“Only a week longer, I think,” she said, “just to make sure...”

Jem rose. “But—”

“Just one more week, son,” said Atticus.

“No,” said Jem. “Yes,” said Atticus.

The following week found us back at Mrs. Dubose’s. Mrs. Dubose stopped using the alarm clock and would release us with, “That’ll do,” so late in the afternoon Atticus would be home reading the paper when we returned. Although her fits had passed off, she was in every other way her old self: sometimes Mrs. Dubose would become bored and pick on us:

“Jeremy Finch, I told you you’d live to regret tearing up my camellias. You regret it now, don’t you?”

Jem would say he certainly did.

“Don’t you mutter at me, boy! You hold up your head and say yes ma’am. Don’t guess you feel like holding it up, though, with your father what he is.”

At last the day came. When Mrs. Dubose said, “That’ll do,” one afternoon, she added, “And that’s all. Good-day to you.”

It was over.

That spring was a good one: the days grew longer and gave us more playing time. Atticus was in the middle of a sports column one evening when the telephone rang. He answered it. “I’m going down to Mrs. Dubose’s for a while,” he said. “I won’t be long.”

But Atticus stayed away until long past my bedtime. When he returned he was carrying a candy box.

“What’d she want?” asked Jem.

We had not seen Mrs. Dubose for over a month. She was never on the porch any more when we passed.

“She’s dead, son,” said Atticus. “She died a few minutes ago.”

“Oh,” said Jem. “Well.”

“Well is right,” said Atticus. “She’s not suffering any more. She was sick for a long time. Son, didn’t you know what her fits were?”

Jem shook his head.

“Mrs. Dubose was a morphine addict,” said Atticus. “She took it as a pain-killer for years. The doctor put her on it. She would have spent the rest of her life on it and died without so much agony, but she was too contrary—”

“Sir?” said Jem.

Atticus said, “Just before your escapade she called me to make her will. Dr. Reynolds told her she had only a few months left. Her business affairs were in perfect order but she said, ‘There’s still one thing out of order.’”

“What was that?” Jem was perplexed.

“She said she was going to leave this world beholden to nothing and nobody. Jem, when you’re sick as she was, it’s all right to take anything to make it easier, but it wasn’t all right for her. She said she meant to break herself of it before she died, and that’s what she did.”

Jem said, “You mean that’s what her fits were?”

“Yes, that’s what they were. Most of the 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. If you hadn’t fallen into her hands, I’d have made you go read to her anyway. It may have been some distraction. There was another reason—”

“Did she die free?” asked Jem.

“As the mountain air,” said Atticus. “She was conscious to the last, almost. Conscious,” he smiled, “and cantankerous. She had Jessie fix you this box—”

Atticus reached down and picked up the candy box. He handed it to Jem.

Jem opened the box. Inside, surrounded by wads of damp cotton, was a white, waxy, perfect camellia.

Jem’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. “Old hell-devil, old hell-devil!” he screamed, flinging it down. “Why can’t she leave me alone?”

In a flash Atticus was up and standing over him. Jem buried his face in Atticus’s shirt front. “Sh-h,” he said. “I think that was her way of telling you—everything’s all right now, Jem, everything’s all right. You know, she was a great lady.”

“A lady?” Jem raised his head. His face was scarlet. “After all those things she said about you, a lady?”

“She was. She had her own views about things, a lot different from mine, maybe... 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.”

Jem picked up the candy box and threw it in the fire. He picked up the camellia, and when I went off to bed I saw him fingering the wide petals. Atticus was reading the paper.

Vocabulary Exercises
ex. 1 Find English equivalents
разогреваться, зависимый, храбрость, восстанавливать против себя, часто, многочисленный, быть побежденным, освобождение, придираться, выглядеть как картинка, не иметь значения, быть в порядке / в беспорядке, быть ответственным за что-то, непростительный, иметь шанс, упрямый, дни сочтены, быть целым и невредимым
ex. 2 Find synonyms to the following words and expressions
to look like a picture
to release
to be responsible
to be licked
ex. 3 Explain these words and expressions and make sentences with them
to make no difference
days are numbered
to be in one piece
to pick on somebody
to be out of order
ex. 4 Finish the sentences
  1. It is inexcusable when…
  2. I never pick on anybody because…
  3. She never stood a chance of…
  4. Her papers were in order so…
  5. At our English lessons we warm up by…
  6. If you antagonize people, they will…
  7. You must be responsible for…
ex. 5 Complete with prepositions where necessary
  1. I was a bit fat when I was a child. So other pupils always picked __ me.
  2. You have no talent! You don’t stand a slightest chance __ winning the competition.
  3. Everything she said __ me was a lie.
  4. Mrs. Dubose didn’t want to be beholden __ anything.
  5. I was relieved when I saw him return __ one piece.
  6. We are responsible __ our actions.
  7. There was a strange look __ his face.
  8. She was sitting __ the porch when we were passing __.
  9. Don’t pay attention __ him. He always antagonizes people.
  10. What are you wearing? You should be __ a dress!
  11. I felt sorry __ the sick old lady.
  12. They were going to stay with us __ a while and then get __ to Britain.
Comprehension Exercises
ex. 1 Express your opinion on these quotations
Courage is doing what you're afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you're scared. - Eddie Rickenbacker
I would rather be a coward than brave because people hurt you when you are brave. - E. M. Forster, as a small child
Compassion is the basis of all morality. - Arthur Schopenhauer
Politeness [is] a sign of dignity, not subservience. - Theodore Roosevelt
ex. 2 Correct the following sentences
  1. Mrs. Dubose was a crazy old lady who lived near Jem and Scout.
  2. Atticus was angry with Mrs. Dubose for the things she said about him and his children.
  3. On his birthday Jem and Scout went to the amusement park.
  4. Jem spoilt Mrs. Dubose’s flowerbed because she said he would not achieve anything in his life.
  5. Atticus forbade Jem to read to Mrs. Dubose for two months.
  6. Attucus treated Mrs. Dubose rudely and never showed sympathy towards her.
  7. Scout was so scared of Mrs. Dubose that she decided not to accompany Jem to her house.
  8. Mrs. Dubose corrected Jem during the whole time he was reading to her.
  9. Jem read to her one hour everyday during a month and then she said “Good-bye” to them.
  10. Mrs. Dubose could not get rid of her morphine addiction.
ex. 3 Answer the question
  1. Who was Mrs. Dubose? What do you know about her?
  2. What was the children’s attitude towards her? How did Atticus treat her? Why?
  3. Why did Jem break Mrs. Dubose’s camellias?
  4. What was his punishment? How did Jem react?
  5. How did Mrs. Dubose behave during the reading sessions?
  6. Why did Atticus make Jem red to her? What was his opinion about Mrs. Dubose’s insults?
  7. Why did Mrs. really want Jem to read to her? What were her fits?
  8. How did Mrs. Dubose die? What did her present to Jem mean?
ex. 4 Discuss the following
  1. Why did Atticus called Mrs. Dubose courageous? Do you agree? Why did she not want to be “beholden” to morphine?
  2. What is courage for you? How do you understand it? Give examples of courageous behavior.
  3. Do you agree with Atticus: “…it’s never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn’t hurt you.“ Do you believe in behaving like a gentleman/a lady? Should people be polite?
  4. Do you care about what other people think and say about you?