The Coalwood Way
by Homer Hickam

Chapter 3 ~ In All My Born Days

Discussion ~ 
    It is fall of 1959, and Sonny is beginning his Senior year at Big Creek High.  He introduces his "sadness" theme here, as well as Quentin, his unique and eccentric friend, and Reverend Julius "Little" Richard, a pivotal character in the story.  It is "Little" who injects the theme of the Potter's Wheel into the story.  We also find Homer with a crisis at the mine, a situation that reveals much about his character and values.

Writers' Workshop ~ 
     (1) Though the author is never showy in his vocabulary, he also refuses to "dumb down" conversations or characters in order to make them more simplistic.  Here, Elsie quotes their preacher by saying, "Knowledge puffs up, but charity edifies."  To which Homer replies, "What in Sam Hill does that mean?"  Look up the definition of "edify" and see if you can fully explain just what she means by this.
     (2) What is the source of the title of this chapter?  How does it relate to the part of the story told here?

Freud's Couch ~ 
     (1) Sonny mentions that he feels a "slight depression" from time to time.  Do you ever experience sporadic emotions that seem to have no immediate source?  When do you notice them?  Is this a common "disease" for teenagers?  Does that mean we should minimize it?
     (2) Sonny has such anxiety and ambivalence about his sadness that he cannot even pray for his own blessings.  He greatly desires to know the origin of that sadness.  Do you think you know?  Sonny is going to start keeping a list of things that might be bothering him.  Predict what you think will appear on that list.
     (3) At the end of the chapter, Sonny declares that God "was shaping us powerfully hard".  It is often said that, "God never gives us more than we can handle."  Do you think Sonny would agree with that at this point in his life?  Have you ever been under such duress that you felt that you were getting more "on your plate" than you were equipped to handle?  What did you do about it?

Mountaineer Morality ~
     (1) Sonny says that West Virginians just don't come out and admit that they have a problem, because that would be "pitiful".  What is the rationale behind such a philosophy?  Is it better to adopt this approach, or to be more open with one's difficulties?  Which is more interesting in a story character?
     (2) Rev. Little reads Sonny the story of the Potter's Wheel from the book of Jeremiah even though he certainly knows the passage perfectly from memory.  This reminds us again that in WV it is a sin to be too proud of one's knowledge.  Why does the author keep emphasizing this point?  Does our current society punish hubris or glorify it?

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