Henry gets some heat at Tale book discussions

Posted: Wednesday, February 23, 2011
By Ben Beagle, bbeagle@batavianews.com

Readers gathering for discussions as part of the “A Tale for Three Counties” community reading project have a lot to say about the characters of Hillary Jordan’s novel “Mudbound.”

Racism and social injustice are prominent themes in the novel and they play out through the lives of two farm families — one black, one white — in post-World War II Mississippi.

Readers are generally agreeing that they like Florence, the strong-willed black midwife.

And while there is no support for Pappy, the racist father of Henry, as any other than the book’s most hated character, it is Henry that is beginning to meet with some resistance. A majority of readers at recent discussions in both Perry and Le Roy are finding Henry among their least popular characters.

Last night, readers gathered at the Perry Public Library. Last Thursday, the discussion was at Woodward Memorial Library, Le Roy. Eleven book discussions remain through March 9. Jordan is scheduled to visit March 10 to 12 for talks and book signings in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties.

Here are brief reports on the most recent book discussions:

More than a dozen people gathered Tuesday at Perry Public Library, said director Peggy Parker.

No one, Parker reports, liked Pappy.

“Author Hillary Jordan didn’t use Pappy as one of the several narrators, but he came through loud and clear through his actions as described by the others,” Parker said.

The group also agreed with Daily News columnist Tom Rivers’ recent essay suggesting the Pappy’s son Henry, the landowner who farms Mudbound, was just as much a villain. The group “failed to find redeeming qualities — despite the fact that author Hillary Jordan allowed Henry give his side of the story in several chapters,” Parker tells us.

In fact, she said, Henry’s many flaws were discussed at length by Perry readers!

Florence, however, was very much liked by the Perry group. They talked of her strength of character, love for her family, instinctive understanding of various situations, her successful marriage and handling of the challenges presented to her and all those around her.

Group members also discussed the books depiction of racism, soldiers returning from war, the actions of the KKK in the book and in general, city life versus hardscrabble farm life, the two main marriages in the book (as well as that of the neighbor and her abusive husband), cotton farming and the sharecropper/tenant farmer contrast, the way the author presented the “possible” (but is it probable?) ending of Ronsel’s story.

Before the discussion ended, the group raised two moral questions:

— Was Florence “guilty” of murder even though someone else beat her to it?

It’s hard to say, the group decided, since we weren’t sure she would have gone through with it. It certainly would have caused more problems for her and her family if discovered.

— And what about Laura’s infidelity? How did the group feel about that? More than one felt the author could have presented the same idea without Laura actually choosing to act on her feelings for Jamie, but that maybe the action was a chance to show Laura as a flawed character as well.


The Feb. 17 discussion at Woodward Memorial is part of the Le Roy library’s regular monthly group (third Tuesday of each month), though it did draw two new participants for the Tale discussion.

“All of us were fans of the novel and really appreciated that the novel was narrated by six different characters,” reports Woodward Director Sue Border.

The group discussed how each character’s narrative offered a different perspective of the entire story. The reader is able to get closer to the truth of why the characters’ act the way they do and how they see each other.

Like many other discussions, the consensus was that Florence was the favorite character, again for her strength and steadfastness in the face of so many troubles.

But once again, Henry is coming up among the least favorite. Readers at the Le Roy gathering viewed him as self-centered and emotionally cold.

Racism, social injustice and a woman’s role in the late-1940s and ’50s were discussed and compared to where we are today with those issues. The group felt positive changes have been made, but there is still work to do on all these issues. This was an excellent book to use to begin to examine these issues.

One group members suggested reading “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration” by Isabel Wilkerson as a way of understanding the circumstances that blacks experienced during this time period. This non-fiction book tells about the migration of black citizens who fled the South in search of a better life in northern and western cities. Wilkerson tells this story through the lives of three unique individuals.

The group felt the novel ended on a hopeful note! Ronsel defies the men who attack him and rises above their attempts to silence him.

Do you consider Florence “guilty” of murder?

How do you think author Hillary Jordan could have handled differently the relationship between Laura and Jamie?

Post your comments below or e-mail lifestyles(at)batavianews.com.

Also, join the discussion on the “Tale for Three Counties” Facebook page.

Here’s the schedule of upcoming book discussions:

* Feb. 26: 1 p.m. Wyoming Free Library, 114 South Academy St., Wyoming, (585) 495-6840. Rescheduled from Feb. 12.
* Feb. 28: 6:30 p.m. Stevens Memorial Community Library, 146 Main St., Attica, (585) 591-3855.
* March 1: 7 p.m. Gainesville Public Library, 10 Church St., Silver Springs, (585) 493-2970; Warsaw Public Library, 130 North Main St., Warsaw, (585) 786-5650.
* March 2: 7 p.m. Richmond Memorial Library, 19 Ross St., Batavia, (585) 343-9550.
* March 3: 11 a.m. Genesee Community College, Alfred C. O’Connell Library, 1 College Rd., Batavia, (585) 343-0055.; 6:30 p.m. Corfu Free library, 7 Maple Ave., Corfu, (585) 599-3321; 7 p.m., Genesee Community College.
* March 4: 1:30 p.m. Genesee Community College, Batavia.
* March 7: 1 p.m. Lee-Whedon Memorial Library, 620 West Ave., Medina, (585) 798-3430.
* March 9: 7:45 a.m. Richmond Memorial Library, Batavia; and 12:30 p.m. Genesee Community College, Batavia.

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

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