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Jem explains that Mrs. Dubose wants him to read out loud to her every afternoon for a full month. They go to Mrs. Dubose's house, which is dark, frightening, and full of medical equipment. Mrs. Dubose is lying in bed, and she looks friendly but her face is old and hideous. Jem begins to read Ivanhoe and Mrs. Dubose snaps at him when he pronounces any word incorrectly. As time passes, the old woman stops speaking and her mouth opens and closes while her head sways from side to side. Jem asks her if she is all right, but she doesn't reply. In a few minutes, an alarm clock sounds, and Mrs. Dubose's assistant shoes them out of the room and tells them to go home because it is time for Mrs. Dubose's medicine. This same sequence of events happens every time Scout and Jem go to Mrs. Dubose's house.
Scout asks Atticus what a nigger-lover is, and he says that it's just a meaningless term that "ignorant, trashy people use when they think somebody's favoring Negroes above themselves." He tells her that these words hurt the people who say them more than they hurt him.
The end of the month arrives and Mrs. Dubose asks Scout and Jem to read to her for one more week. Each day, it seems that they stay there a little longer before the alarm sounds. When Mrs. Dubose makes remarks about Atticus's case, Jem responds with detachment and keeps his anger hidden. Weeks after the last day of reading, Atticus receives a phone call and goes to Mrs. Dubose's house for a long time. He comes back to announce that she is dead, and tells the children that she was a morphine addict. Jem and Scout's visits helped break her from her morphine addiction, which the doctors had prescribed for her as a painkiller for her illness. Atticus explained to his children that Mrs. Dubose is an example of true courage. Even though she knew she was going to die, Mrs. Dubose wanted to be free of her addiction. Atticus tells Jem that courage is about more than men with guns. Instead, it is about knowing you're going to lose but sticking to your views and fighting anyway. Mrs. Dubose won, because she died beholden to nothing. Atticus calls her "the bravest woman I ever knew."