#1755. Mudbound. (2008). Hillary Jordan. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 324pp. $14.95 ISBN: 9-781565-126770
Undergraduate Student Services
Mike Ilitch School of Business, Wayne State University
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan tells the story of two families, one white, one black living in the Mississippi Delta shortly after World War II. Both families have a soldier returning from the war and have settled on a farm owned by Henry McAllen. The Jackson’s are tenant farmers working on McAllen’s land. Hap Jackson hopes one day to own a farm that he and his son Ronsel, can work together.
Ronsel has returned home from Europe where he and his fellow soldiers were proclaimed liberators after Germany’s defeat. He soon realizes that nothing has changed in America. Many black soldiers hoped fighting to liberate Europe would mean when they returned home, they would also be liberated from the prejudice and laws meant to keep them as second class citizens. This has not happened in the Mississippi Delta. He must enter through back doors and avoid eye contact with white farmers. His family, especially his father, Hap encourages him to keep the peace by behaving in a subservient manner.
Jamie, Henry’s brother, has also returned from the war and stays with Henry because he has nowhere else to go. Jamie experienced the war from the sky and is dealing with his own demons which often lead him to drink and irresponsible actions. Jamie’s disregard for how his actions affect those close to him, leads both families into a life changing event that destroys the Jackson family.
The antagonist is Pappy McAllen, Henry’s father, who lives with Henry and his wife, Laura. In Pappy, you find a man who hates everything and everyone; his daughter in law is worthless, his sons are stupid and not manly enough, and the Jackson family, especially Ronsel must constantly be shown their place in the Delta. Pappy represents the old South and the dangers of sticking by family no matter what happens or what they believe.
The novel addresses several social issues that are still relevant today: the relationship between husband and wife, post-traumatic stress, the double victory that did not happen after World War II, and the racial inequality minorities face particularly in rural areas. Another subtler message is to what extent are we willing to bend our moral compass and accommodate family members, because they are family? The McAllen’s and Jackson’s are both hostage to this notion and in the end, this blind loyalty, leaves both families ruined.
This is an area we often forget our students may be navigating while in college and meeting new people with ideas and opinions different from what they have experienced. We often state this as one of the benefits of college, but what happens when it creates added stress and anxiety and the student must decide between embracing new ideas and a relationship with their family? Mark Zuckerberg is spending 2017 visiting every state in the US and in a post from May 21st he reflects on this very notion. He writes, “The more fundamental issue seems to be the friends and family we surround ourselves with. This is a powerful force upstream of the information we receive and it determines how we process and factor it into our decisions.” Whether it be changing their major, or deciding to attend a University or community college we can open the dialogue with students by simply asking the question, “Do you feel your family will support this decision?”
Jordan, H. (2008). Mudbound. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.
Zuckerberg, M. (2017, May 21). Retrieved from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/zuck/posts/10103739373053221