Hush little baby, don’t say a word,
Mama’s gonna buy you a Mockingbird.
And if that mockingbird don’t sing
Mama’s gonna buy you a diamond ring
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee’s 1960 coming-of-age novel won the Pulitzer Prize, made the names Boo Radley, Scout and Atticus Finch cultural touchstones and arguably, at least in the case of Atticus Finch, archetypes, and may well have helped pave the way for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
The story is a familiar one, not only in terms of this book, but to childhood itself. There’s a new kid in town who challenges the norms. Figuring an offensive burst is better than defending himself for his exotic background and petite frame, Dill taunts Scout and her brother Jem into confronting the stranger who lives in the spooky house within their midst: Boo Radley.
All the while, Jem and Scout’s widowed father Atticus Finch, a small town lawyer in the town of Macomb, Alabama, is fighting the struggle of his life, in court and out, in defending a black man, Tom Robinson, from the unfounded accusations of Mayella Ewell and her father Bob Ewell. The book, and the film adaptation, are so full of iconic moments that one simply needs to see an image or read a brief quote and be reminded of the fullness of feeling contained throughout this beautiful novel.
On the eve of the novel’s fiftieth anniversary, American media outlets celebrated the novel in the way only American media outlets would: by unleashing venom upon the book, Harper Lee and the novel’s fans. The Wall Street Journal said, “It’s time to stop pretending that “To Kill a Mockingbird” is some kind of timeless classic that ranks with the great works of American literature.” http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052748703561604575283354059763326. The New Yorker published Malcolm Gladwell’s interestingly harsh criticism of To Kill A Mockingbird on the eve of the novel’s 50th anniversary. Gladwell’s hypothesis is that Atticus should have been a stronger defender of civil rights and lacked moral fiber. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/08/10/the-courthouse-ring.
It just seems to me that to judge Atticus Finch by 2009 standards is unfair. Atticus was a man of his time and place, as Harper Lee makes very clear. “He liked Maycomb, he was Maycomb County born and bred; he knew his people, they knew him and because of Simon Finch’s industry, Atticus was related by blood or marriage to nearly every family in town.” He treats everyone with respect; including some people the New Yorker and the Wall Street Journal writers deem unworthy. And everyone, almost everyone, in the town respects him.
A jury never looks at a defendant it has convicted, and when this jury came in, not one of them looked at Tom Robinson. The foreman handed a piece of peer to Mr. Tate who handed it to the clerk who handed it to the judge. . . .
I shut my eyes. Judge Taylor was polling the jury: “Guilty . . . guilty . . . guilty . . . guilty . . . ” I peeked at Jem: his hands were white from gipping the balcony rail, and his shoulders jerked as if each “guilty” was a separate stage between them.
. . .
Atticus took his coat off the back of his chair and pulled it over his shoulder. Then he left the courtroom, but not by his usual exit. He must have wanted to go home the short way, because he walked quickly down the middle aisle toward the south exit. I followed the top of his head as he made his way to the door. He did not look up.
Someone was punching me, but I was reluctant to take my eyes from the people below us, and from the image of Atticus’s lonely walk down the aisle.
“Miss Jean Louise?”
I looked around. They were all standing. All around us and in the balcony on the opposite wall, the Negroes were getting to their feet. Reverend Sykes’s voice was as distant as Judge Taylor’s:
“Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’.”
The book is plumb full of great food, from Calpurnia’s summertime daily does of lemonade, to the many angel food cakes, to the Halloween pageant costumes of Maycomb County agricultural products including ham, beef, butter beans and peanuts.
My book club menu for To Kill A Mockingbird would include:
County ham and biscuits
Butterbeans (baby lima beans) with butter, salt and pepper
Roasted new potatoes (400 degree oven, salt & pepper and olive oil til crispy)
My grandmother’s angel food cake
1 1/4 up soften cake flour
1/2 cup sugar
12 egg whites at room temperature
1 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/3 cup sugar
Measure sifted four, add 1/2 cup sugar and sift four times. Combine egg whites, cram of tartar, salt and flavorings in large bowl. Beat at high sped until soft peaks form. Sprinkle in rest of sugar in 4 additions beating until blended after each addition. Sift in flour mixture in four additions, folding in with large spoon, turn bowl often. Pour into ungreased 10 inch tube pan and bake at 375 for 35-40 minutes. Cook cake upside down in pan on cake rack.
And of course, Tequila Mockingbirds
- 1 Jalapeño pepper slice
- 2 oz Patrón Silver Tequila
- 1.5 oz Watermelon-Basil Purée*
- .75 oz Fresh lime juice
- .75 oz Agave syrup (one part agave nectar, one part water)
In a shaker, muddle the jalapeño slice. Add the remaining ingredients and fill with ice. Shake for 10 seconds and double strain into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice.
- 2 cups Chopped fresh watermelon
- 7 Basil leaves
Purée both ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth. Refrigerate until needed.
Must start with James Taylor and Carly Simon’s Mockingbird! This video is too much fun, to see Sweet Baby James and Carly dancing the shag mid-song. http://youtu.be/4WM_R-6AKHE
Rocking Robin, Jackson Five
Blackbird, the Beatles
Freebird (if you can stand it)
Little Bird, Annie Lennox
There’s no need to remake To Kill a Mockingbird, but if Hollywood should ever decide it wants to, I can only hope George Clooney will be cast as Atticus Finch.
Happy Reading & Eating!
Mockingbird illustration by Jon Janoski, credit Encyclopedia Britannica