To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird begins with a 6 year old girl nicknamed Scout, whose greatest concern is summer freedom and games with her brother and the neighbor boy Dill, especially attempting to coax her reclusive neighbor, “Boo” Radley, out of his home. Her father Atticus is a well-educated, kind lawyer who honestly answers any questions the children have about life, much to the dismay of his poised, lady-like sister, Alexandra, always at odds with her niece’s tomboy ways. As a result, both children have very adult vocabularies, yet still maintain unique, childish perspectives on the adversities that will befall their small town, especially when their father has to defend a black man in 1930’s small-town Alabama. With many layers of brilliant metaphors, this novel redefines prejudices and contrasts, through the eyes of children, the barriers that ignorant or fearful adults can create. To Kill a Mockingbird will make you reevaluate your beliefs and their roots, and even spur you to look for trinkets that may have been left in knotted trees.

Recommendations:

Harper Lee’s new sequel and first novel in 50 yrs, Go Set a Watchman, is the perfect follow-up for this introductory novel.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare is also narrated by a young girl, but set in New England in the 1600’s. She also learns about the fair and unfair prejudices people cling to, and the consequences of stubbornness, when she, in a land of Puritans, chooses to help an outcast elderly Quaker woman, and to teach a child whose mother believes her too stupid to learn anything.

The Giver by Lois Lowry asks big questions about life and people’s rights to choose certain lifestyles, out of fear, and hope for the betterment of human society. It makes us question what really is best for civilization, and will make you appreciate some liberties we take for granted.

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterman also contains courtroom drama, racial issues, and questions about justice and equality.

For a true account of another recluse – an unfathomably wealthy woman – and her eccentric upbringing, read Empty Mansions:The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr.

Themed Recipe:

Lane cake is a common Alabama dessert, usually made in 2 or 3 layers, with the following fruits and nuts in between each. Miss Maudie is alleged to make the best cakes in town, and it is assumed that Aunt Alexandra would serve this alongside her rum punch at the meetings of the ladies missionary circle.

Lane Cake Cupcakes:

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Makes 2 dozen

  • Yellow boxed cake mix (and all recommended ingredients from the back of the box)
  • 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut, ½ cup reserved
  • 1 cup pecans, ½ cup chopped and reserved
  • 3/4 cup chopped raisins, ½ cup reserved
  • Maraschino cherries for garnish, if desired
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 Tbsp milk
  • 2 Tbsp bourbon
  • 2 Tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 (8 oz) block of cream cheese, softened

To make the cupcakes, grease two standard sized muffin pans, and preheat the oven to the suggested temperature on the back of the cake mix box. Spread ½ cup of shredded coconut on parchment paper on a baking sheet, and place in the oven for about 5 minutes, or until most of it is a light brown and crisp, but not burnt. Then set aside for the frosting. In a medium bowl, mix together the recommended ingredients, as well as the bourbon, with the cake mix on medium speed for 2 minutes. When it is fully incorporated, use a spatula to gently fold in the ½ cup each of shredded coconut, chopped pecans, and chopped raisins. Drop 2 Tbsps of batter into each muffin cup, then bake the pans for the recommended time from the back of the cake box, (usually 20-22 minutes) making sure to rotate the pans halfway through their cooking time. After baking, let cool at least ten minutes before frosting.

For the frosting:

Place the remaining pecans in a small saute pan over medium heat, stirring every couple minutes until they give off a slight, nutty aroma, and their color just barely darkens. Do not allow them to become dark brown, or wait too long to flip them, or they will burn. It’s easier to toast them whole, then let them cool and chop the toasted pieces. Set aside on a plate or in a bowl when done. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the vanilla extract, cream cheese, and powdered sugar, dispensing the sugar into the bowl about ½ a cup at a time to avoid making a mess. Halfway through the process, add the milk. When the frosting is complete, and if the cupcakes have cooled, use a metal frosting spatula or butter knife to smooth about 2-3 tsps of frosting onto each cupcake. Then, with a plate below to catch the dropped flakes, sprinkle the toasted coconut over the frosting. Add the toasted pecans to the top center of the cupcake, as well as a few raisins, if you wish. If you are also using a maraschino cherry garnish, make sure you drain each one well before placing on top to avoid dripping. I found that if I pushed the pecans down into the frosting, the cherry sat on top more easily.

Rum Punch Recipe:

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Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup coconut rum
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup pineapple juice, or 1/4 cup pineapple rum and 1/4 cup pineapple juice
  • 1/8 cup grenadine or cherry syrup
  • maraschino cherries for garnish, optional

Instructions:

1.Mix coconut rum, orange juice, and pineapple juice together and pour into a glass.

2.Pour over ice and add grenadine. Garnish with a cherry.

Discussion Questions:

1.There was a lot of mystery surrounding Boo Radley, such as his his hands being bloodstained “if you ate an animal raw, you could never wash the blood off.” To what other classic story (play) is this a reference?

2.When Scout’s first teacher, Miss Caroline, shares with the class what region she is from, they are nervous that she might “harbor her share of the peculiarities indigenous to that region.” Could you call this a prejudiced mentality on the part of the children? If so, is it a premonition of things to come. How true are these about later characters?

3.Scout is told to stop reading with her, against which she buckles. “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.” How many things in life are merely expectations we have, and not necessarily things for which we are grateful? How would you feel if you were told not to read, especially as a child?

4.Walter Cunningham, and his family’s philosophy of paying for things, or not borrowing what they cannot pay back, is perhaps one of the first deep steps in another character’s shoes which this book enables the reader to take. What other characters will Scout empathize with before the story is concluded? How does this affect the adult she might become, and how might it affect us if we did the same with as much observation and grace as she is sometimes forced to have?

5.How does the revelation that Mr. Radley is a “foot-washing Baptist” color Scout, and your, view of him and his actions, especially his reaction to Boo and the tree knot? How would being raised according to such beliefs possibly cause Boo’s behavior, particularly his desire to be home-bound?

6.The only sin Atticus mentions is a sin, is killing a mockingbird. Miss Maudie agrees with him, because they do nothing but sing. They don’t “eat up people’s gardens or nest in corncribs.” What character(s) represent mockingbirds in this story, and who is guilty of committing such sins, even to lesser degrees?

7.Jem and Scout are shocked when they discover their father’s marksmanship. While most men would brag about such an ability, Atticus has hidden it from his children. Why, and why does he feel he has “an unfair advantage over most living things” as opposed to seeing it as a gift or a blessing, especially on that day? What does it say about those who brag about such abilities, and what they value versus what Atticus values?

8.At Calpurnia’s church, the congregation sings by “linin’,” since they are too poor to afford hymnals for everyone, and most of them can’t read anyway. How have things changed in our time, versus how they are then? Does poverty contribute to certain levels of humility and gratitude, or only in certain cases? Why?

9.Atticus was in conflict with his sister Alexandra, about how the children-especially Scout-should be raised. Once, he took her side, asking them to behave like a lady and gentleman. This led to Scout getting upset, and his trying to console her with humor. However, Scout notes, “Atticus was only a man. It takes a woman to do that kind of work.” Is that statement true merely for her, or all females, or all children? Do women have a better ability to empathize and soothe an upset child? Or was Scout only longing for a mother she didn’t have?

10.At first, the Tom Robinson case didn’t interest Scout very much or for very long. Jem observed that this is because children can’t keep something in their mind “but a little while. It’s different with grown folks.” Jem looks down on her in pity for this, but could it be considered a blessing as well, in situations such as this, to have the mind of a child?

11.Atticus had told his children to be polite when speaking to people, and talk about “what they were interested in, not about what you were interested in.” How did this advice, and Scout’s obeying of it when talking to Mr. Cunningham before he and others attacked Atticus to get to Tom Robinson, prevent this incident from occurring? How did she appeal to his humanity?

12.Many people tend to pity Tom Robinson and the injustice black Americans suffered, but Jem observes some who suffered more, mixed children: “They don’t belong anywhere. Colored folks won’t have ‘em because they’re half white; white folks won’t have ‘em because they’re half black…” Could it be argued that life was hardest for them at this time?

13.How is Mayella a tragic character and a product of her environment? Is it possible that, all factors taken into account, her actions were inevitable, and if it hadn’t been Tom Robinson, it would have been some other black man?

14.Mayella was possibly the poorest person in the trial, as Tom said, “she didn’t have no nickels to spare,” so he chopped wood for her for free, because he “felt sorry for her.” Why is this unfathomable for Mr. Gilmer and the jury?

15.Mr. Raymond, a man who married a black woman, pretends to drink alcohol out of his paper bag, even though it’s only coke. His reasoning is that “Some folks don’t like the way I live…I try to give ‘em a reason…It helps folks if they can latch on to a reason.” How is this a gracious, peaceful way to live with his more ignorant townsmen? Why is it sometimes easier for children than adults to understand and accept being different?

16.Miss Maudie believes “that there are some men in this world who were born to do our unpleasant jobs for us” and that Atticus is one of them. Why is that? Who do you think in the town would agree with Miss Maudie? Do we still have men like that now?

17.Atticus said that “if spitting in my face and threatening me saved Mayella Ewell one extra beating, that’s something I’ll gladly take.” Why does he choose that instead of seeking revenge on Ewell, or finding a way to end Mayella’s beatings completely-though, if he did, what would become of the other children?

18.Atticus states that “There’s nothing more sickening than a low-grade white man who’ll take advantage of a Negro’s ignorance. It’s all adding up and one of these days we’re going to pay the bill for it.” Are we in that time now, and if so, what is the price society is paying?

19.What was the meaning of Miss Maudie’s comment to Mrs. Merriweather of the ladies circle that Aunt Alexandra hosted,“His food doesn’t stick going down, does it?”

20.Mr. Underwood, the writer of The Maycomb Tribune, “likened Tom’s death to the senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters and children.” Is this an appropriate analogy, or do you know a better one? Is he the only “mockingbird” in this story or can you think of others?

21.“Persecution comes from people who are prejudiced,” according to Scout’s teacher, Miss Gates. She also believes that in America, “we don’t believe in persecuting anybody.” But which characters in this story are victims of prejudice, and not just the obvious racial or class prejudices?

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