The Coalwood Way
by Homer Hickam
Chapter 11 ~ A Disaster of Squirrels
Our author chooses
an interesting collective noun to catch our attention for an eventful chapter.
Chipper is introduced as a major character with an interesting personality.
The BCMA has an important meeting, we get a lesson in comparative economics,
and Chipper's wheel is analogized with the potter's wheel that we have previously
discussed. Once again, the story takes an interesting "detour" that
opens new possibilities for plots to develop.
Writers' Workshop ~
(1) In a key moment early in the chapter, Sonny decides
he is finally ready to open Principles
of Guided Missile Design, given to him by Miss Riley. He desires
to design a "more sophisticated nozzle" for his rockets to improve their
performance. Describe a time when you decided to improve the quality
of your work on a project that you considered important. What strategies
did you use to enter a new phase of your production? What resources
did you use that you had previously overlooked?
(2) Homer drops into his room to give him a lesson
on how to keep his pencil point a consistent width. Sonny wonders what
other lessons Homer could teach him "if only he took the time". Recount
a lesson that you were taught once by someone wiser. Try to be as descriptive
as possible about your conversation and the feelings you had about the advice
you were receiving. It will be better if you can recall advice that
was cryptic or an outcome that was unexpected.
(3) Sonny is shocked when Quentin's dramatic discussion
with him leads to the realization that his friends see him as "rich".
Think of a time when you suddenly discovered that someone had a very different
view of you than you would have expected. Recall how it felt to be judged
differently than you normally judged yourself.
(4) Quentin ponders on collective terms, and Sonny
decides that squirrels would be a "disaster". What is a collection of
squirrels actually called?
Think of at least 10 new collective terms that you think would be more appropriate
than the terms usually used.
Freud's Couch ~
(1) Sonny adds several things to his list in this
chapter. What things do you think he is leaving out at this point?
What do you expect him to add in the near future? What would be on your list?
(2) Elsie asks an astounding question in this
chapter; "Why is it, I can't have at least one thing in my house I love?"
Though she is in obvious pain, the implications of her words are far-reaching
and devastating. Sonny is definitely hurt by these words, but has no
response (nor, likely, would we). Recall a time when someone you care
about (or maybe yourself) uttered such a thing. Try to be as descriptive
as possible about the emotions and thoughts that were generated by those words.
(3) Sonny also has to "take the rap" for an incident
that may have been beyond his control. Do you think he is a responsible
as everyone wants him to be? He seems to have expected to get the blame,
but do you think his expectation reached to this extent?
(4) Sonny finds self pity addictive, but insufficient
to resolve his problems or soothe the accompanying sense of doom he has.
You have probably indulged in self pity at some point in your life.
Describe such a time, with emphasis on the elements above. Did you find
the tactic fulfilling? Did it have unexpected side-effects or consequences?
Did it, in fact, resolve any problems or assuage your gloomy feelings?
Mountaineer Morality ~
(1) Elsie utters a sort of typical WV quote when she describes her
squirrel running in his wheel, "Chipper might not be going anywhere, but
he was getting there fast." This plays on a certain type of mountain
humor, in which the obvious is stated, then made to look as though it was
better than it really was. Perhaps you can think of similar statements
that are commonly used in your home, or make up some of your own.
(2) Sonny refers to his "West Virginia stubborn
streak" as though it were a genetic trait. Is such a thing possible?
If not, why is it such a commonly used concept? Around my house, the
standing joke was to deny any stubbornness, regardless of the obvious circumstances.
We were "determined" or "serious" regarding issues, not stubborn. Can
personality traits be more common to certain geographic areas? How
do we explain their occurrence otherwise?