The Coalwood Way
by Homer Hickam

Chapter 27 ~ A Coalwood Wedding

Discussion ~  This chapter has about as much to do with a wedding as it does with a coal mine.  What is does do is provide an excellent opportunity to move the story closer toward an obviously gangbustin' conclusion.  In the process, we are treated to some incredible writing and thought processes.

Writers' Workshop ~ 
     (1)   In the moment when Sonny finally reaches a crisis about the root of his sadness, we get some of the most pithy, portentous writing of the entire book.  It behooves the young writer to look closely at these types of moments, because it takes a special art to bring out such emotion in a character.  Notice his desperation, grappling to fully understand the cause of his depression, even to the point of making an extended list in order to analyze its origins.  Having failed to do so logically and scientifically (as he usually solves everything), Sonny resorts finally to faith, praying to God for an answer.  Instantly, he realizes that he has made a mistake, because he will receive one, he's unlikely to enjoy it, and the pain will be awful.   As the old saying goes, "Be careful what you ask for; you may just get it."  The extent of Sonny's angst here within just a few sentences is absolutely amazing.  Diagram each group of sentences in this first section of the chapter as to the purpose they serve in advancing the drama.  Look carefully for the structure that underlies the writing here.
     (2)   At the end of the chapter, Sonny finally realizes the source of all his sadness.  Are you surprised at the "revelation"?  Does it seem too simplistic or trite for your taste, or does it seem to fit perfectly, considering the timing and plot development?  Now that he has determined the source, what do you think the solution will be?

Freud's Couch ~ 
     (1)   As the chapter opens, Sonny ponders Roy Lee's opinions from the previous chapter, waxing poetic as he describes his "heart in the icy cold vise of truth where hearts tend to suffer".  Why is he being so dramatic in his word usage?  Have you ever experienced this sort of feeling?
     (2)   Sonny gives us some pretty deep philosophy when he rejects Rev. Little's interpretation, and says, "It was History, not God, at the control of the great Potter's Wheel and it ground without cease, thought, or remorse."   Up to now, Sonny seems to have demonstrated some fairly stable religious values - why does he seem to reject them at this point?  As you think deeply about it, is he actually rejecting those values?  What difference does it make, philosophically, whether it is History or God at the controls?
     (3)   Everyone's troubles seem momentarily suspended by the wedding.  Why do certain events seem to make life better for everyone touched by them?  How long does that effect last?  Are the emotions of the wedding attendees exacerbated by the many issues that are creating tension in Coalwood?  (Evidence)
     (4)   So, who did write "The Book of Love"?  Though human beings in general and teenagers in particular celebrate individuality, we can easily see that people of certain age groups follow many unwritten rules when engaged in certain activities (like romance).  Is this evidence of "human nature", coincidence, or are there other forces at work here?  An action that would make sense would be for Sonny to break his date with Melba (she's attractive and has plenty of time to get another date) so he could go to the Prom with Ginger (who he has much greater affection for anyway).  What unwritten rules would this break?  Would Sonny be a "bad guy" for doing so?  [Would you love to find the right Big Creek yearbook from the 50's to see who Sonny actually went to Prom with?  And then speculate who is the character known as Ginger?]
     (5)   Sonny closes the chapter with a tremendous emotional outburst that is rather embarrassing.  It essentially revolves around his feeling that he has not earned the respect of his father.  Would such an emotional outburst be likely to engender respect?  Is it a universal desire of boys to earn their father's respect?  I remember the actor Burt Reynolds once explaining that much of his bad behavior as a young man came because he never felt that his father viewed him with any respect, and claimed, "In the South, you're never really a man until your father tells you that you are."  Can such a thing really hold true?  If so, what happens to boys whose fathers die young?

Mountaineer Morality ~ 
     (1)   "The Men" are having a talk after the wedding when Homer is asked whether Sonny will "go to the Cape".  In true West Virginia fashion, his response focuses on the process rather than the outcome.  Can you identify with Sonny's feelings when he hears Homer's reply?  Is this another case of Home showing Sonny disrespect, or are there other motivations here?  Does Sonny's reaction show respect to his father?  How will the two of them resolve these conflicts?

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