2011 essay entrants were asked to answer one of the following questions:
1. How did it make you feel to have six different narrators tell the story?
2. Which character did you find the most likeable and why?
Entries were reviewed by members of the Tale for Three Counties Council Inc. who received copies of the submissions in which the writers’ identity and location were not included. Judges then voted for which entries they liked the best; the six highest vote getters were selected as winners.
2011 – The Winners
Here are the winning entries in alphabetical order:
Jacquie Billings Barlow, Perry
Ralph Ellison states that all novels should be a “dramatic study in comparative humanity.” This statement perfectly summarizes what Hillary Jordan achieved in Mudbound.
The use of six different narrators gives voice to many voiceless issues of this time. Black and white, male and female, young adults and seasoned survivors interact, causing the reader to fluctuate between sympathy and contempt, often for the same character. For example, the reader sympathizes with Laura as her husband’s single minded venture forces her into a life she would not choose for herself. In later moments the reader is stung by Laura’s scornful racist sentiments.
Jordan showed true skill in her craft as she weaved these characters into a congruous statement on some of the greatest challenges Americans have struggled with throughout our shared history. The inhumanity shown by these dark moments resonate with the reader long after the story is concluded.
Sue Briggs, Stafford
In the novel “Mudbound,” author Hillary Jordan introduces us to a post World War II community whose residents are struggling with the forces of racism and the frailties of human nature. As we examine events from each character’s point of view, the black midwife, Florence Jackson, earns our admiration for her strength and insight.
Jordan describes her as an Amazon, a warrior, with a “deep running fierceness.” Her strength is evident when she works the fields in her injured husband’s stead, refuses to be baited by Pappy McAllan’s racist remakrs, and rises up to avenge her son in the novel’s stormy conclusion.
It is Florence who understands the other characters most clearly. She recognizes Hap and Henry’s landsickness that drives them, and Laura’s “mother worry” so like her own. She is immune to Jaime’s charm, recognizes his weakness, and warns her son Ronsel of the dangers of associating with him.
In the end we can only admire Florence for her dignity and wisdom and Hillary Jordan for creating her.
Ann Burlingham, Perry
Mudbound”’s use of multiple narrators gives us different windows into its world. When we look through six different sets of eyes, we know what each character knows; by reading from multiple points of view, we have an overview of what each character does not know, as well. We are also shown the inescapable fragmentation that narrowly-prescribed roles imposes. Each narrator struggles with their expected role in the post-WW2 rural South. Even as the characters come together and try (or don’t) try to understand one another, the racism and sexism of the society in which they live helps isolate them from one another in ways hard to overcome even with the greatest goodwill and effort. By showing us the individuals’ experiences, the author shows us that each of these characters is at the center of their own story. Each has their own struggle, choices, and consequences.
Meaghan Hauser, Perry
Which character did you find most likeable and why?
Florence Jackson forcefully inhabit’s the pages of “Mudbound.” Even shouldered with the indignities black women bear in 1940s Mississippi, Florence knows who she is and what is worthy of her.
She is a midwife, present at the most intimate moments in many lives. She rules her household and manages the McAllans, and has complete access to the unraveling of the two families. A lifelong resident of Marietta, Florence knows how prejudice will affect all people.
From sticking her finger in Pappy’s waterglass to Biblical sparring with Hap, Florence carries herself with dignity and honesty. And that integrity of character makes Florence a trusted ally for readers. She explains Henry’s “land sickness,” reveals Pappy as “the real devil” and warns that Jamie has a “hole in his soul.”
Florence is the reader’s interpreter who helps us spot the tributaries that lead to the cascading flood of events at the height of “Mudbound.”
Debra Nanni, Batavia
I truly enjoyed having so many different narrators telling this story. This was a very strong and intense novel. Just when I thought I knew who was responsible for a certain act or problem, a twist was thrown in and it turned out to be someone else. This caused me to see the many different facets of each character’s personality, and I would see that people were not always the way I first believed they were.
The fact that each character narrated their own part of the story made knowing and understanding them so much easier and interesting. I was able to focus on each person separately and they all become very, very real to me. When I would sit down in the evening to read another chapter, I could imagine each person in my head and actually visualize them and their actions. I believe this was because the narrations made the characters seem stronger.
The fact that there are so many different narrators did not confuse me like I thought it would. I think for this particular story to work as it did and evoke as many feelings, it needed many strong characters, and they all needed to talk … it was heartbreaking, and wonderful.
David Stevens, Le Roy
Who is your favorite character?
My favorite character is Florence, the black midwife who is mother to Ronsel. Florence displays an insight into life on the delta that the others seem to lack. For instance, she’s aware that the land in fact owns the men who own it: “White or colored, none of em got sense enough to see that she (the land) the one owns them.” (89) Unlike her husband Hap, Florence is sensitive to the fact that Ronsel doesn’t want to stay on the land: “Ronsel couldn’t a cared less about having his own land, but there wasn’t no point in telling that to my husband.” (230)
Florence knows what evil is. Even though Hap thinks that Henry is the devil himself, Florence realizes that it is Henry’s father that is the real wicked one: “The real devil was that ole man.” (91) Florence also sees the fatal flaw in Jamie: “Jamies McAllen wasn’t evil, not like his pappy was, but he did the Dark Man’s business all the same.” (227) For Florence realizes that Jamie “has a hole in his sole, the kind the devil loves to find.” (228)
Throughout the novel, Florence sees through Hap’s blind faith. Finally, she spits out of the wagon beside the old man’s grave and says: “That’s for your God. He ain’t getting nothing more from me.” (312). Hooray for Florence! In spit of that fact that she couldn’t read, she still could see the truth.
Frances McNulty, Batavia
Which character did you find most likeable and why?
Who wouldn’t like Jamie?
He was a handsome and charming war hero. Although some might argue disreputable and irresponsible were more accurate modifiers.
Those of us who have never experienced war cannot fully comprehend the tragic and horrifying events he witnessed. How unfortunate the supportive services and agencies that exist today were unavailable to him as he struggled to overcome the issues and demons he faced.
Contrary to prevailing attitudes of the times, and at tremendous personal risk, he evidenced racial tolerance and a sense of justice that has otherwise taken years to develop, and continues to evolve. This book is a thoughtful reminder of a shameful component of our history that, although improved, we still work to overcome.
The reader might hope Jamie was able to find solace and satisfaction with the remainder of his life, and his influence and attitudes impacted those he knew and touched in a positive way.
Sally Capurso, Bergen
How exciting it was to have six different narrators that conveyed six points of view in “Mudbound”! Each character disclosed his/her innermost thoughts, emotions, and motives, affording the reader the opportunity to truly envision the complete picture. Readers experienced the complexities of human emotions as Laura told of her loves (Henry, Jamie) and hates (Pappy, the farm) while Jamie conveyed the horrors of war and Pappy’s derision, ultimately enabling the reader to empathize with their sexual transgression. Henry’s deep love of the farm aided our understanding of his reluctance to act on his knowledge of Laura and Jamie because he was “counting” on Jamie’s “help for the planting.” Florence’s “calm, womanly presence” observed all and told it succinctly. Ronsel and Hap provided insight into the racism of the times while reacting dissimilarly to it. Finally, their collective introspections reveal their loathing of Pappy, the seventh narrator, who hardly spoke but uttered volumes with his unspoken words.
Jason Smith, Batavia
“Mudbound” was a vastly different reading experience due in part to Jordan’s decision to have the story narrated by 6 different, yet very similar characters. The characters presented the reader with an opportunity to hear all perspectives about this riveting Southern tale. It was as though as I read a collection of short stories with a common theme. Hap, Florence, Ronsel, Jamie, Henry, and Laura presented their own perspectives of life on Mudbound and captured it with their own distinct perspective. Imagine from hearing from two families — one black and one white — narrate a Southern story about love, family, racism and loyalty. What the reader ends up with is a melting pot of perspectives on a rich tale. Jordan’s approach leaves the reader with a complete understanding of these characters’ perspective, and the complexities of life in the Deep South in the 1940s — an amazing tale, couples with a creative approach.
Lyn Blackburn, Waterport
Which character did you find most likeable and why?
Florence was my most likeable character in the book. While each character was tightly interwoven with their actions or lack of actions, dichotomy was the strongest word that kept surfacing in my mind.
Florence’s memorized knowledge of scripture and inborn sensibility of herbal remedies as opposed to Laura’s middle class upbringing and college education was evident. Florence’s reaction to humiliation by Pappy was her use of inherited “hoo-doo devilment” and subtle gestures to ignore him; however she was able to sly kill him as a result of his inhumane treatment of Ronsel. Florence had great compassion as a Mother and mid-wife and was well-known and needed in her community versus Laura’s isolation in the Delta region. The greatest dichotomy was the viciousness of the Ku Klux Klan’s brutal treatment of Ronsel to Florence’s beloved son.
“Mudbound” was a powerful book to read, emphasizing the forces of good and evil.
Joyce Thompson-Hovey, Pavilion
Whether it be a mystery, a court case or a person’s life, it’s all in how each person perceives what happened. Keeping this idea in mind helped me understand why the author of “Mudbound” chose to set up character chapters. That way, I felt each individual’s emotions and I was seeing each event through their eyes.
The driving catalyst, however, is not the character but the time period of the 1940s in which they lived. The role of women and men, as shown by Laura and Henry, and of blacks and whites, shown by Hap’s family and the way the rest of the characters and community viewed them, is essential to the story. These two issues are what ultimately affect each character’s point of view.
The more I read the book, the more I felt like I was experiencing that time period first hand. The way it was setup was the perfect backdrop to present the multilayered stands of not only society back then, but of each character and how they ultimately interpreted what was happening not only in their lives but in the world.
Elizabeth Saleh, Corfu
“Mudbound” is packed with engaging characters, I.e. Laura, Henry and Hap, salt of the earth types; and Jamie and Ronsel who are heart wrenching and tragic. As interesting and likeable as these characters are, Florence immediately crept into my heart. She is strong, an image of Mother Earth. Her priority is bringing babies into the world and she has a healing touch. She knows what it means to be a mother and wife and is fiercely protective of her family. She is a woman of faith, having a combination of Christian and earthy wisdom.
It’s disturbing that she might have murdered Pappy, but we don’t know that she would have gone through with it. On the other hand, she may have just cut out Pappy’s tongue (She did choose the thinnest blade); this would’ve been appropriate as it was Pappy’s tongue that did so much damage to her son, and Jamie’s sense of self worth.
Diane Chamberlain, Silver Springs
Florence was blessed with strong love. She loved Hap deeply before she even knew his touch. She carried that love through her life. She loved her children, but she loved Ronsel most. She wasn’t afraid to admit that fact. Ronsel came into the world with more notice than the others and as he grew, he shone. To have this deep love of family, despite undesirable circumstances following her each day, Florence had a full heart. Florence’s actions through her life reflected this love of family. When she went to help take care of Laura and Henry’s sick children, she stayed on so that she wouldn’t bring the contagion home. Her actions, when they hurt Ronsel, were primarly from love. I liked Florece because I admire red that she was able to enjoy the blessing of much love in an otherwise miserable time and place.
Bonnie Bowman, Wyoming
Florence Johnson is the person who I liked and admired in Hillary Jordan’s novel “Mudbound.”
Being born a Negro and living when she did, she never had the chance to become the leader I believe she could have been.
Florence was a formidable figure. When called to do so, she could take charge and run a household as well as keep a struggling crop farm productive.
Though she had a strong personality, many times she was forced to remain silent, keep her opinions to herself, in order not to bring attention to her family.
When he son Ronsel was brutally attacked by a gang of white men, she knew she had to take matters into her own hands. Because of her family’s race she knew the authorities would not search out or arrest those men.
If Florence had lived in more modern times she would be an advocate for others.
Linda Daviau, Batavia
Longing, love, loyalty, shame, fear, hated bigotry … all are brought to life in “Mudbound,” a novel by Hillary Jordan. Set in rural post-war Mississippi, this multitude of emotions is vividly detailed by the six main characters whose lives become entwined in the telling of this tale. By giving each character a voice, Jordan allows the reader to share their innermost thoughts and feelings, making the story come alive. Even though the telling of the story is shared by so many characters it was easy to follow as their lives unfolded in this well-drawn tale. “Mudbound” is an exceptionally moving account of a time and place in our history of which I, for one, am not proud. Its climax, that was shocking but not unexpected, hung over me as I read. “Mudbound”’s powerful characters will long remain with me.
Rita Fischer, Corfu
How did it make you feel to have six different narrators tell the story?
Reading “Mudbound” from the unique perspectives of six different narrators was fascinating. Each narrator tells his or her side of the story. This insight helps the reader to identify with and connect to the characters. Our own opinions and deepest feelings are alive in Jamie, Laura, Ronsel, Henry, Florence and Hap. They become like real people. This fervor drives the reader to continue reading, desperate to discover the fate of these storytellers.
By allowing each narrator to speak in the novel, Hillary Jordan lets the reader know exactly what the characters are thinking, not only about the circumstances, but also about each other. These innermost feelings would be difficult to reveal from the perspective of a single narrator. The reader’s anticipation would be lost. This style allows the reader to hear each side of the story and form an opinion about the narrator and the situation based on the narrator’s own voice.
“Mudbound” is an exceptional novel that will be read and re-read by people from every walk of life for years to come.
Carolyn Ricker, Kent
Hillary Jordan’s creative use of her six main characters in narrating the saga of “Mudbound” draws her readers into the emotion of each individual and helps us to better understand the choices of her characters. I am more sympathetic to Henry’s rash decision to move his family after learning of how he has set aside ths dream for years. Knowing that he had an original plan to accomplish his goal with more involvement from his family gives him more credibility as a loving husband. Jamie’s inability to relate to his family and share his emotional turmoil with even his own brother, who is familiar with the terrors of war, is more understandable when read from his perspective. And I absolutely love that we don’t hear from Pappy as a narrator. I think many would agree we really don’t care how he feels about anything, since he is such an irredeemable creature.
Linda DeVito, Oakfield
Laura was a survivor. Well educated and raised in comfortable circumstances, she was ill equipped to face the hardships of living on a farm. The fact that she survived and provided a home for her family, showed a courage and determination that I find admirable and inspiring.
While saying good bye to Laura, before she left for Mississippi, her father reminded her that she was a “fighter.” She showed that spirit as an infant, and might need that fight in the future. He was correct, Laura had to face many physical and emotional challenges.
I would have liked Laura to say, ‘No,’ more often than she did, but that did not happen in the ‘40s. Like all the characters in “Mudbound,” Laura was flawed, but she rose above circumstance. She is a reminder of women I have known, some in my family, who are strong, courageous examples for us all.