Collected items from all chapters.
(1) Elsie (Mom)
expresses a variety of analyses about Dreama in just a few comments.
Based on these comments, what do you think Elsie really thinks of Dreama?
Do you expect her to reject Dreama or sympathize with her? What do
her insights imply about West Virginians? What do you expect Dreama's
role in the story to be?
(2) Sonny tries not
to sound "puffed up" about his intention to get straight A's, because that
would be a sin in Coalwood. Why is it a sin, and what do you expect
to happen to someone who is puffed up? What is your favorite story
about a person who got all puffed up? Might this "sin" be looked at
differently in other cultures?
(3) Elsie gives
Sonny two pretty good reasons for going to see Poppy: (a) it will give him
time with his dad; and (b) Poppy "is your blood". Both reasons have
a double edge, and carry mixed emotions for Sonny. Still, they are
very West Virginia sort of reasons. Relate a situation in which you
were encouraged to spend time with family for one or both of these reasons.
(4) The sequence of events
in this chapter drives a wedge between Sonny and Homer that will separate
them throughout the book. In WV, such things are usually not discussed
between parents and their children. The implication is that the children
are expected, as part of their maturation, to recognize the ways in which
they have offended their parents, and rectify the situation on their own.
It would be a sign of weakness for the parent to admit that they had been
"hurt" by a child, but the child rarely realizes the full impact of their
actions. Perhaps there is a relationship in your life with an unspoken
barrier. Describe how it came to be, objectively analyzing whether
"blame" needs to be assigned or if it can mostly be chalked up to circumstances.
How might it be resolved?
(5) 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?
(6) 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?
(7) In this chapter,
a person is referred to by saying, "he'd once come as an occupier and got
occupied instead." What does this reference mean, and why is it couched
in military terms? What is it that occupied these people? How
does it connect to the famous quote regarding Greece and Rome, "Captive Greece
made captive her rude conqueror?"
(8) In relation
to Dreama, the Coalwood women seem to have certain rules about what constitutes
town "citizenship". What are those rules? Why is it important
in small towns to have such rules? Do these sort of rules still exist
in your town or school?
(9) When the truck
pulling the Coalwood float breaks down, who gets the blame? In many
other locations, this would be considered a mere coincidence, but in West
Virginia such incidents are often associated with family shame. What
do you think causes this? How long do you think the "shame" from this
(10) The author states,
"It was a WV custom to be curious, but to never go past a rebuke."
Once again, what exactly does he mean by this? Are both parts of it
still true? Why are both elements necessary in order for the statement
to have some uniqueness for Mountaineers?
(11) When Mr. Dubonnet
gives Sonny some inside information, Sonny is shocked that an adult would
be "so frank" with a child not his own. West Virginians are known for
keeping a "tight lip" outside their families about important issues, but
here Dubonnet violates that "rule". Why do you think he did so?
Considering that earlier in the story Sonny was shocked that his mother was
frank with him, is his perception accurate or is this simply a case of Sonny
overreacting to an adult conversation?
utters a sort of typical WV quote when she describes her squirrel running
in his wheel, "Chipper might not be going anywhere, but he was getting there
fast." This plays on a certain type of mountain humor, in which the
obvious is stated, then made to look as though it was better than it really
was. Perhaps you can think of similar statements that are commonly
used in your home, or make up some of your own.
(13) Sonny refers to his "West Virginia stubborn
streak" as though it were a genetic trait. Is such a thing possible?
If not, why is it such a commonly used concept? Around my house, the
standing joke was to deny any stubbornness, regardless of the obvious circumstances.
We were "determined" or "serious" regarding issues, not stubborn. Can
personality traits be more common to certain geographic areas? How
do we explain their occurrence otherwise?
again, our characters show us the true nature of mountain humor when Homer
reminds Elsie that marriage was "for better or worse" and she responds, "Your
better, my worse." It is common in WV to turn a phrase in this sort
of way, even if the result sound overly exclusive. Do you have any
such sayings around your house? Can you create some brief exchanges
in which characters respond to each other in such a way?
(15) When Sonny notes that there are many hungry
birds and deer, Homer responds, "The strong will get through. The rest
won't. That's nature's way." This is close to the heart of WV
philosophy, and applies to humans as well as animals. Do you see this
approach as sensible or heartless? Is Homer cruel or without sympathy,
or is he simply realistic? Does this approach prevent a person from
quotes Red Carroll has having said, "Never wake up a dog unless you want
to get bit." In this case, what does this saying mean? Who is
the "dog" referred to, and what is the issue about which it could be awakened?
Think of a situation in your own life to which this thought could be applied.
Look at the ways Elsie characterizes the "fun" that Junior Engineers have.
Are all those things rightly considered "fun"? After their excursion
in WV, they are expected to never have fun again. Are the things they
are looking forward to not
(18) Homer's method for "welcoming" Junior Engineers
is to give them a week of 16 to 24-hour days to break them in. Why does
he use such excessive times? This is definitely a WV trait. Have
you ever had a job for someone like Homer, who pushed you beyond "normal"
limits? What are they trying to accomplish?
(19) Referent to the Junior Engineers, Tag Farmer
gets the line, "A goose is still a goose - don't matter where it flies in
from." In doing so, he gets to humble the 4 guys present, compare Americans
and Germans, and teach Sonny a valuable lesson. What is the meaning
of this saying? How would it be stated if it were not using references to mountain
(20) West Virginians
cherish their traditions, like the Hickam's gathering of greens as Christmas.
Part of this is due to our mixture of heritage, with many different nationalities
playing a role. What are some of the traditions that your family has
that are not common to many people you know? Write about the one that
you find most unique.
(21) Jake gives us another dose of WV wisdom when
he says, "Until you get knocked down, you don't know how good it feels to
stand." Think of other sayings that remind us that adversity helps us
appreciate the good things in our life.
mixes two mountain metaphors when he says, "All glory is shadows,... there
is no armor against fate." In these circumstances, what do each of
these two phrases mean? Why does he put the two together? How
does the combining of the two make each one take on added meaning?
As with some of the earlier aphorisms we've seen, does the formality of the
language add to their meaning?
Little's statement about the windows, "Sometimes a thing can't stand
to be talked about before it happens", is common of a certain type of WV wisdom.
Why do some people avoid talking about an event they would like to happen? Why do
some people avoid talking about events they do not wish to have happen?
Is this sort of avoidance bad or good or both?
(24) Mr. Bolt has created a nozzle out of water
putty by using a little simple ingenuity, a common strategy for West Virginians.
Perhaps you can recall a time when you saw someone solve a problem by making
a "tool" or process out of unusual items and a bit of common sense.
Elsie sees a sign that says, "Hickam go to Hell", she remarks, "At least
they spelled it right." (meaning the family name) This is a certain
type of WV family humor, in which the intended victim turns away any anger
by seeming to accept the comment in a pleasing way. Maybe your family
has similar retorts to common insults, or maybe you can create a few situations
where such a comment might come in handy. If a "soft answer turneth
away wrath", this is the softest sort of answer.
has been taught that, "Men had a responsibility to women, no matter how old
they (the women) were." (In other words, even when a girl was
old enough to "take care of herself", men older than her still had responsibility
to behave appropriately toward them.) In our day and age, these values
may seem old-fashioned, but we might also lament the loss of such a code of
honor. Women may be liberated in regards to classes in school and pursuit
of career goals, but may also have relinquished some of the respect they
were granted in the "old days". Has our world actually improved as
(27) Sonny gets all A's after his exams and says,
"I allowed myself a small grin, then wiped it off lest someone see me being
proud." This returns us to the earlier "puffed up" theme. Once
again we are reminded that "Pride goeth before a fall". At this point
in the story, what do you think can happen to "take the shine off" his recent
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?
(29) 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?
(30) 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.
Elsie tries to entice a secretive Sonny into telling her about his mine trip,
Sonny evades the inquiry, saying, "I knew better than to help Mom stir her
own pot, especially when I was the stew meat." What exactly do you
think this saying means? How else might it be worded? What does
it say about Sonny (and/or West Virginians) that he uses this particular choice
(32) Sonny refers to the Golden Horseshoe
test as an important element in his education, saying that there was "no greater
honor" than winning it. Would a non-West Virginian understand this
allusion, or is it there solely for the enjoyment of Mountaineers? Do
other states have similar tests? Why would he use such an allusion if
only a limited part of his audience will understand its importance?
(33) Elsie gives Sergeant Martin of the
Salvation Army a check for $500 as a donation for the Christmas packages
that will be distributed. Considering how tough the economy has been
in Coalwood, and how there seems to be little to go around (think back to
all the allusions to hunger and shortages of money we have seen in the book
so far), Elsie's charity seems quite extreme. This seems another reminder
to me of something I read just before my Russia trip. It is considered
impolite to finish all the food on the table when you are a guest at someone's
house, no matter how little you have actually eaten or how hungry you are.
Why do you think that is? Why is Elsie so charitable with the Salvation
Army when times are so "tight" in Coalwood? Would these moralities
make sense to people from other geographic regions?
(34) One of the most difficult moments of
the chapter comes when Elsie tells Sonny (re: his desire to see Dreama accepted
in Coalwood), "It's wrong to try to make right what can't be made right."
This seems opposite of what I would consider another West Virginia morality,
that there is honor and triumph in doing what is right, even if you are doomed
to fail in your ultimate task. You might wish to discuss whether these
two seeming opposites can both be true at the same time, and how a group of
people might be able to believe both things. Or you may decide that
one of those statements is wrong in its applicability to West Virginians.
Sonny expresses the opinion that "If you can't do a thing perfectly, it's
not worth doing at all." (I can't tell you how many times I heard that
when I was growing up, though it was generally modified into the more usual,
"Anything worth doing is worth doing well.") How do you feel about
that philosophy? Is it still prevalent in today's world? Quentin
follows up with the theory that things perish when they reach perfection.
Is that philosophy more "up
your alley" or do you disagree? Why does Quentin even say this?
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?
(37) Insecurity about the future is also a part
of the West Virginia way. Another old saying refers to people who,
"can't stand prosperity", and West Virginians are often susceptible to that.
As John Dubonnet and Jake wrestle over whether the strike at 11 East will
do good or harm for the miners of Coalwood, Homer seems essentially successful
in that he has set a goal and achieved it, no matter the cost. Why
would a group of people have difficulty accepting their success as being something
good? Does success or accomplishment of a task always bring happiness?
(38) In the
midst of all the satisfying endings with joyful, quaint elements, Cuke Snoddy
returns, about which our Author remarks, "...in the way of Coalwood, the
light of the grand evening had given way to something of darkness."
This revisits one of our previous thoughts about West Virginians' fatalism.
Must every good moment in
these people's lives be diminished by one sour note? The incident does
little to dampen the spirits of the folks involved, yet we must ask, do West
Virginian's always anticipate
some sort of negative aspect to every moment in their lives?
(39) Sonny finally feels the element of respect
from his father, relative to Homer's gift of drafting tools. Is this
the best way for a taciturn, stoic man to express such emotions? Do
we imagine that Homer will ever
tell Sonny outright that he respects his skills and adult manner? Must
West Virginia boys content themselves with always having to read subtle signs
of approval from their fathers?
(40) Part of Sonny's conclusion is that "I
knew who I was and where I came from and who my people were. I was
ready to leave because I could never leave." Can you imagine
any better feeling in life? Are we all in search of our roots and personal
definition in this way? How does knowing where we have come from help
us understand who we are? Is a West Virginia boy more likely to feel
this need? Is he more likely to desire a resolution to it?
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