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 ~ 
     (1)   Sonny 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 a result?
     (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 accomplishments?

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