In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee uses diction and symbolism to promote the theme that coming-of-age requires time for reflection to accept the painful truth. In chapter 11, Atticus delivers the news of Mrs. Dubose’s death to Jem to which he responds with the word “well.” Harper Lee uses “well” to imply Jem’s feeling towards Mrs. Dubose’s death. “Well” is a word with a neutral connotation: it does not have a negative nor a positive nuance to it. In this passage, Jem simply responds with “well” to indicate that he is not affected by the sad news. The purpose of the language is to indicate Jem’s dislike towards Mrs. Dubose to a point where he does not show concern even after he learns about her death. After hearing about Mrs. Dubose’s death, Jem continues to hold grudges towards her, indicating his level of maturity at the beginning of this passage.
After delivering the news, Atticus continues by explaining Mrs. Dubose’s morphine addiction and her goals of breaking from it before she dies. Harper Lee uses many question marks in the dialogue to illustrate Jem’s sudden curiosity. Jem’s sudden curiosity indicates that he is beginning to open his closed mind; therefore, Jem shows progress in terms of understanding. Atticus then gives Jem the candy box containing a camelia. Harper Lee describes the camelia with words such as “white,” “waxy,” and “perfect.” “White,” “waxy and “perfect” symbolizes purity; thus, the purpose of this language is to imply Mrs. Dubose’s sincere intentions towards Jem. This was Mrs. Dubose’s way of expressing her gratitude for Jem’s help when he read to her as a distraction. However, Jem does not realize her sincere intentions for he hysterically reacts to the present he receives. Lee’s words such as “popped,” “hell-devil,” “screamed,” and “flinging” creates a mood of anger and furiousness. The purpose of this language is to depict Jem’s reaction and imply his anger and hatred towards Mrs. Dubose. Jem’s anger indicates his unwillingness to accept and understand the truth; thus, making him immature.
After Atticus explains why he thinks Mrs. Dubose is the bravest person, Jem starts to finger the camelia he receives. Jem fingering the camelia represents his acceptance of the truth. Initially, he shows hatred with the present he receives and refuses to accept Atticus’s words of wisdom. His refusal to accept and understand the truth indicates his immaturity. However, at the end of the passage, Jem realizes what Atticus said was true. He accepts it despite it being difficult for him due to the fact that his past encounters with Mrs. Dubose were not pleasant. Being able to understand and accept truth does not occur at an instant, especially when the truth requires pride to be set aside. For Jem, it took him a few moments to fully understand Mrs. Dubose’s situation and why she had said all the harsh words. He went through various emotions such as anger to finally accept the truth. His realization of the truth led him to forgiveness and letting go of grudges; therefore, at the end of chapter 11, Jem’s level of maturity rose.
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