Readers weigh-in on ‘Mudbound’ characters, injustice

Posted: Friday, February 11, 2011
By Ben Beagle, bbeagle@batavianews.com

Hilary Jordan explores social injustice in her debut novel, “Mudbound.”

The story — this year’s selection for the “A Tale for Three Counties” community reading project — is set in post-World War II Mississippi where segregation is strong and equality lacking. Readers at special Tale book discussions are pondering Jordan’s story and comparing it to contemporary society.

A senior reader at the Yates Community Library’s discussion this week “felt overwhelmingly that this is an important book for the younger generation to read, and that young people need to understand that the treatment of Ronsel (a black soldier) and the various levels of racism displayed by the white characters were true to the time,” reports Emily Cebula, director of the Lyndonville library.

Seven people, including two who were new to Yates’ book discussions, gathered Monday to talk about the book. Several agreed that if they had to describe their reaction to the events in “Mudbound” in a single word it would be “anger,” Cebula said.

“The mood was more somber than many of our meetings because each reader had takento heart the theme of social injustice in the book,” Cebula says. “All were impressed with Jordan’s vivid characterizations.”

One reader said she verified the accuracy of Jordan’s facts about Ronsel’s battlation and its mission by talking with her son who is in the military. She felt that this lent credibility to Jordan’s novel.

Florence, Ronsel, Jamie and Laura were popular characters, Cebula said.

“In spite of the sobering events of the book, all agreed that the ending, with its hints that Ronsel would ‘shine’ just as his mother said, was hopeful,” Cebula said.

No one liked Pappy, Cebula said.

Pappy, a racist elder white man, was the most disliked character at Byron-Bergen Public Library’s book discussion that met Thursday night, said library director Nancy Bailey.

“Most were glad that it ended the way it did” for Pappy, Bailey said.

A dozen readers attended Byron-Bergen’s discussion.

“Our group wondered how much the racial prejudices were present today and would not be surprised if there were still people that were like Pappy,” Bailey said.

A male reader said most Europeans were told the black people were Native American and suggested that is why they were more easily accepted in Europe, Bailey said.

Readers were sympathetic to Laura’s plight, a woman who reluctantly followed her husband from their comfortable city life in Memphis to the struggling farm, Mudbound.

There was great controversy, Bailey reports, on whether Jamie was a good guy or a bad guy.

“Most liked his characters, but saw his flaws due to Pappy,” Bailey said.

Book discussions continue through March 9. Here’s the schedule of upcoming gatherings:

* Saturday: 1 p.m. Wyoming Free Library, 114 South Academy St., Wyoming, (585) 495-6840.
* Wednesday: 7 p.m. Swan Library, 4 North Main St., Albion, (585) 589-4246.
* Thursday: 6 p.m. Woodward Memorial Library, 7 Wolcott St., Le Roy, (585) 768-8300.
* Feb. 22: 7 p.m. Perry Public Library, 70 North Main St., Perry, (585) 237-2243.
* Feb. 28: 6:30 p.m. Stevens Memorial Community Library, 146 Main St., Attica, (585) 591-3855.

What characters do you like or dislike in “Mudbound”? Do you think Jamie is a “good guy” or a “bad guy”? And what of Ronsel’s future; do you think it is a hopeful one?

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

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