The Coalwood Way
by Homer Hickam

Chapter 8 ~ A Rocket Kind of Day

Discussion ~ 
    Fans of the Rocket Boys storyline will finally get a little satisfaction in this chapter, as AUK XXII-F gets tested (and so do several friendships).  Sonny shows that he has "test objectives of the day", proving that he takes this hobby very seriously.  Homer gives us a little more of his philosophy about unions, and Elsie imagines a "comeback" with plans for a Christmas pageant that Sonny wants no part of.  All these plot lines will provide hinges for irony later on.  This is also a major chapter for gaining insight into the feeling, emotions, and philosophy of the author and some of his characters.

Writers' Workshop ~ 
     (1) Utilizing another potential aphorism, Sonny says, "You don't have to stir the pot if you don't put anything in it."  There are many different applications of the concept of "stirring the pot", but how is Sonny using it here?  Often we don't want people stirring the pot, but here Sonny seems to be encouraged to do so, yet refuses.  Look how he turns this around from its regular usage.  What would he accomplish here by stirring?
     (2) In a masterful segment, the author interjects no less than 6 different plot lines into the scene surrounding the disassembly of the Veterans' Day float.  List the plot mentioned and make a note as to how each one is summarized or advanced.  Note particularly how the final one adds a new plot line that contains the element of foreshadowing as well.  Why is this chapter an appropriate time for such a structure?  Looking only at this part, what would you predict to happen in the next chapter?

Freud's Couch ~ 
     (1) The fence-line gossips take a small incident and find a way to attach to it everything they hold against the Hickams.  What is their motivation for doing so?  What do they hope to gain by being so mean?  How would you expect Homer and Elsie to react when they hear of such gossip?  Have you ever participated in this type of "gripe session"?  Were your motivations any different?
     (2) Elsie plans the Christmas pageant as her "comeback", but Sonny refuses to participate in any way.  Near the end of the chapter he asks a very personal, but universal question, "Was this a part of growing up, wanting to hurt the people who loved me the most?"  Well, what do you think?  Have you ever felt this way?  What are the ramifications of behaving in such a way?  Can we ever fully recover all the elements of our relationship with our parents after an incident like this?  In some strange way, do parents actually expect us to behave thus?
     (3) Sonny acknowledges that thoughts of Poppy might be making him feel maudlin at this traditionally festive time of year.  I would also admit to uneasy feelings near the anniversaries of my parents' deaths.  Why do we associate certain times of the year with these losses?  How long would you expect such feelings to last?  How might we remedy these feelings?
     (4) Why do you think Billy Rose is so defensive with Sonny about the rocket? (Look for several elements.)
     (5) Elsie confides to Sonny that she has lost many friendships due to Homer's role at the mine.  Why has this happened to her?  Why does he feel so uncomfortable having a parent share adult concerns with him?  How do you feel when your parents discuss adult issues with you?
     (6) Coach Gainer serves his role (philosopher who contributes insight) when he says, "A woman's mildness will provoke a man's guilt far better than ever her wrath."  What exactly does he mean by this?  How does it apply in this situation?  Is he correct?  (It is a WV trait to state simple philosophical truths in formal, nearly Biblical, verbiage.  Why do you think that is?)
     (7) In another very personal, revealing comment, Sonny observes that Daisy Mae can find "tranquillity after disappointment", expressing doubt that he will ever be like that.  Do you understand what he means by this?  How are you likely to respond after such disappointments?  How do you think his prediction has turned out?  Did Sonny ever find a way to find tranquillity after disappointment?  Could there be any positive applications of this personality trait?

Mountaineer Morality ~  See F.C. #6, but there are no other items for this chapter.

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