The Coalwood Way
by Homer Hickam

Chapter 29 ~ Life Is What You Make It

Discussion ~  True to its title, this chapter gives us a health dose of philosophy as we gear up for the finale.  Sonny begins to wrap up his rocket plans, the miners go full-bore at 11 East, and other plot lines begin to converge.

Writers' Workshop ~  the writing skills in this chapter are concentrated on integrating philosophy with the plot lines.

Freud's Couch ~
     (1)   One of the basic theories in psychology is the concept of the "collective unconscious" - the idea that human beings contain internal "memories" of events which happened to our ancestors.  This helps explain how each generation seems to possess a bit more information and "street smarts" than their predecessors.  Rev. Little touches on this when Sonny asks him about an afterlife, saying, " long as one of us is still alive, all our spirits go on."  What do you think of this philosophy?  Is it comforting to imagine that not only the things we do but also the things we think may continue on after us?  Have you ever had the feeling that you knew something though you could not remember having ever studied or experienced it?  Could this be part of your collective unconscious?
     (2)   Rev. Little remarks that Homer is may not be who Sonny wants him to be, but that Sonny needs to see him as he really is.   Our literature abounds with stories about parents trying to shape their children, and the children rebelling as they try to discover who they really are.  The reality is that children try to shape parents just as frequently, making them into something they really aren't.  Try writing a vignette in which you recount a time you have tried to do that (and most likely failed).
     (3)   The miners attack 11 East now with ferocity, working side-by-side with foremen they have previously been at odds with.  This relationship is particularly personified in the conflict between Homer and John Dubonnet.  Our Author refers to the long wall as a "common enemy" now to be defeated by all concerned.  This concept is regularly at the heart of sports competition.  What are some other situations from books you have read in which this theme plays an important role?  Why do old grievances seem forgotten when we have a common enemy to face?  Why do people seem to be stronger, fiercer, and more competitive when in such situations?
     (4)   Mr. Todd gives Sonny an emotional sock in the jaw when he says, "...a boy shouldn't think something about his father when the truth's a whole different thing."  This could actually be viewed in a number of different ways when taken out of context, but within this story it amplifies his next action, which is to give Sonny the Christmas presents Homer has kept for him.  These gifts, in connection to the statement, forces Sonny to think differently about his father, though Our Author does not dwell on it now.  Why do you think he lets the issue rest for the moment?  What do the gifts tell us about Homer and his true feelings for Sonny?  Have you ever had occasion to find out a piece of information that it wasn't yet time for you to know?  How did that change your relationship with the other person in the equation?

Mountaineer Morality ~ there is a good deal of morality in the philosophy above.

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