The Coalwood Way
by Homer Hickam
Chapter 23 ~ The Long Wall
Discussion ~ The primary focus of the story finally
returns to the mine. Jake is "all business" as he takes Sonny and John
Dubonnet on an outing that results in both plot and character developments.
Writers' Workshop ~
(1) In mid-chapter,
Our Author gives us an extensive description of long-wall mining. Considering
that he grew up in a coal town, it seems obvious that he'd have much more
knowledge about this process than his average reader. In spite of that,
can you find evidence that he has done extensive research to prepare for
this part of the book? Why would he do so if he was clearly more knowledgeable
than his audience? Imagine some elements of your life that you might
like to include in a story some day that will require further research in
order to be expressed completely. (This is a good reminder that believability
in a story is held by the details, and our ability to hold a reader's interest
may very well depend upon the effectiveness of our research in gathering
(2) Note only: Did you suspect the
revelation that occurred in this chapter about John Dubonnet's romantic feelings?
Think about how difficult it must be for Our Author to choose the perfect
time to introduce this piece of information, even though there have been minor
allusions to it several times.
(3) Another excellent example of Our Author's
craft comes at the end of the chapter. Sonny realizes that the Jake
he knew has mutated into an adult and that Homer has been the catalyst for
that change. Ironically, while Jake sees Homer's contribution to his
entry into manhood as an important and valuable thing, Sonny is angry, believing
that Homer is a "grinding wheel" that has ground Jake down "into somebody
I hardly knew." Our Author treads a delicate path here, because he has
to describe feelings he held as a young man about his own father, even though
we feel that he must long since have come to understand Homer's actions and
motivations. What do you think are some good techniques for recapturing
the thoughts and feelings of moments we did not understand when they occurred,
but which have become clear with the passage of time? Do you think it
possible, at this stage of his life, that Sonny needs a little "grinding down"
Freud's Couch ~
(1) For much of this chapter, John Dubonnet
acts as though he is the
one who owns and runs the mine, prompting some pretty strong emotions from
Sonny especially (and maybe some disdain from Jake). Can you
"analyze" a bit how the Union organizer might come to think such a thing
in this situation? What motivates him to be so strong in his opinions?
When you hear about his romantic feelings does it change your opinion of
his motivations any? John thinks the loyalty of the miners lies with
him, but Sonny knows it really lies with Homer. Why do you think this
Mountaineer Morality ~
Referring to the attitudes it takes to be a good miner, John Dubonnet says,
"A West Virginia boy is born for these deep places..." What do you
think about that generalization? Is it possible that individuals who
are raised in certain geographic regions are more suited for certain types
of jobs or for the use of certain character/personality attributes?
(2) When John asks Sonny what Homer had
told him when he took him down into the mine, Sonny responds with a fierce
verbal attack that puts the adult "in his place". Considering all the
hard feelings Sonny is carrying around with him about Homer, why do you
think he responds so aggressively? Is this just typical "family affairs"
sort of stuff, or can you imagine yourself responding in a similar way?
Might it be more likely in a state like West Virginia, or is it likely anywhere?
(3) When Sonny meets up with his dad in
the mine, Homer enjoins him, "don't tell your mom." This is a very
typical West Virginia value. Husbands and wives share many concerns,
but fathers usually think it's best not to let mom in on items that really
have no context outside the specific situation. There is no need to
worry mothers unnecessarily over things that are over and done with, having
no long-lasting effects. This is often a plot device; try using it
in a short vignette of your own.