The Coalwood Way
by Homer Hickam
Chapter 21 ~ A Coalwood Girl
Discussion ~ Christmas is coming soon, and Sonny is
making his preparations. He has made limited, but personal, choices
for all his family members, and is in a very charitable mood toward nearly
everyone, including Dreama, which leads to a scene that is both humorous and
spiritual. He rebels at that thought that he is considered a
dreamer, because dreamers never actually accomplish anything, and he intends
to achieve great things. Still, it points up some necessary elements
of his character. We learn a great deal in this chapter about Dreama's
girlish sensibilities, Cuke's darker side, Billy's life, and Elsie's effectiveness.
Meanwhile, Quentin ponders Teflon while Sonny struggles to diagram a better
nozzle for the rockets.
Writers' Workshop ~
(1) Within two pages, our Author provides all
the elements of a nifty little side story that helps us see several of the
characters in a more complete way. Outline the process he uses to
show one character's dream, another's method and reasons for assisting, and
a third's reason for hesitating. Then add in the effects of the actions
of "Santa", Cleo Mallet, and Tag Farmer. Look how quickly our Author
changes the mood, then changes the subject altogether, providing us with key
plot information that actually makes our head spin.
(2) Another nice
writing trick is performed when Ginger questions Sonny about why he looks
tired, and he supposes that it has to do with trying to get all A's.
When he notes that she doesn't look as worn down, she puts the entire conversation
into context by hitting Sonny hard on two fronts. Saying, "That's
because I don't go around trying to save the world all the time.", she nails
one of Sonny's most trying character traits (and one that causes him plenty
of difficulty) while initiating a comparison with his father. This moment
becomes even more interesting from a literary standpoint when we remember
that Sonny is actually Our Author in teenage form, so he is forcing this comparison
on himself. Imagine that you are writing a scene in which you (in another
form or at another age) are a character, and another character points out
some of your traits that are disconcerting to them (the more you can think
of, the better). What would they choose to point out? The traits
should be those that have both good and irritating qualities, and which you
can trace directly to a parent, friend, teacher, or other "character ancestor".
(3) Note only: in a chapter that has nothing
to do with the subject, our Author brings 11 East into the chapter through
a casual Roy Lee comment to Sonny. Keep in mind how important it is
to maintain the reader's contact with all plot lines, especially when they
have not been discussed in the story for awhile. Good writers keep
track of all plot lines and the pace of their development so they can refer
to all important thought lines regularly to prevent the reader from forgetting
what's going on.
Freud's Couch ~
(1) Tag Farmer
relates that Dreama had told him that "she just wanted to be a Coalwood girl."
What characteristics do you think Dreama ascribes to "Coalwood Girls"?
Why does she want to be like them? What would she achieve by this?
Mountaineer Morality ~
has been taught that, "Men had a responsibility to women, no matter how old
they (the women) were." (In other words, even when a girl was
old enough to "take care of herself", men older than her still had responsibility
to behave appropriately toward them.) In our day and age, these values
may seem old-fashioned, but we might also lament the loss of such a code of
honor. Women may be liberated in regards to classes in school and pursuit
of career goals, but may also have relinquished some of the respect they
were granted in the "old days". Has our world actually improved as
(2) Sonny gets all A's after his exams and says,
"I allowed myself a small grin, then wiped it off lest someone see me being
proud." This returns us to the earlier "puffed up" theme. Once
again we are reminded that "Pride goeth before a fall". At this point
in the story, what do you think can happen to "take the shine off" his recent