” Went off to fight for my country and came back to find it hadn’t changed a bit. Black folks still riding in the back of the bus and coming in the back door, still picking the white folks’ cotton and begging the white folks’ pardon. Nevermind we’d answered their call and fought their war, to them we were just niggers. And the black soldiers who’d died were just dead niggers. ” [Ronsel, 142]
Set in 1946 Jim Crow south, Mudbound is rooted in racism. Prejudice and hatred assert in forms that are both subtle and brutal. It focuses on the Mississippi Delta on the heels of World War II, as veterans return home and find abominable racism still reigns in their community. A place she finds foreign and frightening, Laura McAllan struggles to adjust farm life at Mudbound without electricity, indoor plumbing, readily accessible medical care for her two young daughters, and, worst of all, life with her live-in misogynous and racist, father-in-law.
For the children’s sakes, and for the sake of my marriage, I hid my feelings, maintaining a desperate cheerfulness. Some days I didn’t even have to pretend. Days when the weather was clear and mild, and the wind blew the smell of the outhouse away from us rather than toward us. Days when the old man went off with Henry, leaving the house to me, the girls and Florence. [Laura, 95]
Florence is the wife of Hap Jackson, one of the McAllens’ black tenants. She becomes Laura’s companion and a hired help. Her gift is to alleviate the brutality of rural life that overwhelms the former city-bred school-teacher. Trouble starts when Pappy, the hateful father-in-law, sees Jamie McAllen, his younger son, has cultivated a friendship with Ronsel Jackson, the son of the black tenants. Battling the nightmares from horrors they had witnessed, the two veterans develop an unlikely, brotherly friendship that provokes disquiet and hostility between the races in town. Neither of them would bow to the old values embraced by the town. Their meeting back home has sealed their fate and drives the tension to an inexorable conclusion.
Now a man can like his nature activity and even his drink and still be the Lord’s, but Jamie McAllan had a hole in his soul, the kind the devil loves to find. It’s like a open doorway for him, lets him enter in and do his wicked work. [Florence, 228]
Jordan weaves together the voices of different characters from both families, both genders, and both races, to create myopic observations of racial tension, racism, and rural life in 1940s. As these struggles unfold with an ominous inevitability, Jordan also inculcates in readers a sense of social conscience, making us aware that under foul abomination people are unfairly profiled for their colors, and their rights and dignity deprived. Mudbound delves in this sensitive subject without being too overbearing and is told with pitch perfect rendering of voices.
What we can’t speak, we say in silence. [Jamie, 315]
That the novel lacks an omniscent narrator and relies on the different voices make the story even more powerful. The many perspectives of the narrative accentuates the effect of racism on everyone, and delivers the subtle message that the consequences of racism should be told over and over again.
320 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]