“I wanted 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.” – To Kill a Mockingbird
Lately, I have been reviving my love of American literature. Having never read To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, I was irrationally excited when my cousin thrust it upon me along with a James Ellroy novel (opposite ends of the literary spectrum, perhaps, but no matter) almost a year ago. At long last I got around to reading it.
To Kill A Mockingbird is one of those rare works of literature that you can’t put down yet wish to read slowly to prolong the experience. The Pulitzer Prize winning story, set in the American Deep South in the 1930s, is a first person account narrated by a young white girl, Jean-Louise (Scout) Finch. Her father, Atticus, is a lawyer who has been assigned the task of defending a local black man, Tom Robinson, accused of raping a white girl.
Scout relates the happenings of the small town she inhabits and her adventures with her older brother, Jem, and their friend Dill. Although her world is very much that of a child, she is aware of more profound issues simmering beneath the surface. The novel is a Bildungsroman in this respect. There is a slow build up of tension prior to the trial. Scount and Jem are insulted for having a father who is willingly defending a black man. The trial itself is both fascinating and appalling.
Although the central plot line of To Kill A Mockingbird is concerned with racial inequality, Lee proves herself a gifted storyteller in her perceptive and often humorous portrayals of a rural southern environment. Her sensibility, particularly as regards Atticus’s relationship with his children, is engaging and effective. To Kill A Mockingbird was her only novel until the recent release of Go Set A Watchman which acted as a first draft of To Kill A Mockingbird. I suppose her trajectory demonstrates that being prolific is sometimes overrated. Producing one great and courageous work is sufficient to change the course of countless lives.
I recently spent a long weekend with relatives in County Wexford in the south east of Ireland. The weather was volatile and I walked a lot along a barren stretch of beach. Oddly for this time of year, the blackberries were ripe and abundant on the thickets. My aunt and I spent a morning gathering the fruit and staining our hands brilliant shades of purple. We made apple and blackberry jam (recipe below). Eaten on a slice of buttered toast, the wild taste of the blackberries is truly life-affirming.
Apple and Blackberry Jam
2 KG Blackberries
1 large cooking apple
1 KG sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
Rinse the blackberries in a colander, checking and removing any stalks. Place the blackberries in a large saucepan and turn the heat on high.Peal and slice the cooking apple. Put it in a bowl and microwave it until soft. Add the apple to the blackberries along with the sugar and the lemon juice. Once the contents of the saucepan is boiling, turn the heat down and simmer for twenty minutes. Be sure to stir occasionally in order not to burn the fruit. After the twenty minutes have elapsed, leave the jam in the saucepan over night. The following day, wash jars in boiling water and dry them off in a hot oven for ten minutes. Spoon the jam into the jars and seal.