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 those details.)
     (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" as well?

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 is so? 

Mountaineer Morality ~ 
     (1)   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.

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