Pulitzer Book Club Inclusion Guide
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"The Way West" by A. B. Guthrie
• Ralph Bunche: first African American Nobel Peace Prize
• Einstein warns nuclear war leads to mutual destruction
• Mattachine Society, one of first gay rights groups, formed
Guthrie lived through the transition from Old West to modern ways as he grew up in Choteau, Montana on the eastern front of the Rockies. Guthrie’s connection to the American landscape deepened as he worked for the U.S. Forest services during college summers.
Featured Reader Wanted!
– Share your key take-away about inclusion in this book in a sentence or two.
– Write a paragraph or two (up to 250 words) to describe your thoughts on exclusion/inclusion in the book, why you related or did not connect with the book, and why you think reading, inclusion and dialog about inclusion matter.
– Identify the name and website address of a cause you support with an inclusive mission.
Missouri to Oregon wagon train pioneers struggle to be decent humans
Lovestruck teen pioneer chisels Mercy McBee Brownie Evens July 2, 1845; meets Sioux.
Wagon train group dynamic creates as much angst and conflict as the battle with external factors – the elements, wildlife, swift rivers, and clashes with Native Americans – during a long, primitive cross-country trek with meager resources.
352 pages; 12 hours. You’ll feel sucker-punched early and several times later.
Fair trade. Treat the people you do business with respectfully and equitably.
White guys wishing for slaves to do drudge work, objectifying women (and worse), calling the shots, wishing for a rifle to shoot an animal in the eye, wanting to exclude dogs from a wagon train, all while feeling good about themselves. Heinous portrayal and treatment of Native Americans, use of the N-word, and an ugly Mexican slur. All wrapped in a grab-the-land-in-Oregon-first mentality. By page four you’ll have enough to write a literary exclusion essay. Ugh.
Serve enough dried fish and buffalo (aka bison) to last a lifetime. Your sides are greens and wild onions if you can find them, and corn bread with jams and jellies you canned back in Missouri. Pie if you pick gooseberries. Cook this meal on an open fire fueled with buffalo chips. Methodist minister might be on hand to put the kibosh on whiskey.
“He couldn’t let them know him, for it would be the same as standing naked and maybe not looking like other folks but looking outlandish and shameful.”
Circle up the RVs, do not arrange them in a square. If you don’t have RVs, wagons, or wide open space, print out some pictures of Oregon trail and Native Americans and grab some shots of buffalos and wolves. Bookmark how to treat a rattlesnake bite. Pray, sing, and/or play cards. Offer trinkets, balsam gum and plugs of tobacco when you want your guests to go away.
Why do people emigrate in the novel? Why do people move cross-country today? Why do people immigrate into the U.S. today? What role did patriotism and politics play?
How do the pioneer emigrants treat Native Americans in the novel? How do Native Americans treat the people on their land? How do Americans treat immigrants?
Pick a male character -- Dick Summers, Lije Tadlock, Brownie, Mack, McBee – and describe how he views and interacts with women and Native Americans.
What are the roles and duties of women in the novel? How do the women feel and perform on the Oregon trail?
Why all the conflict and tension between the men on the wagon train?
Describe rules and Justice on the trail and how they affected relationships and progress.
Discuss the leadership and team dynamic on the Missouri to Oregon wagon train journey.
What were the most disturbing human interactions in the novel? Why did they happen?
You can see some of the 2,000 miles of trail ruts on the Oregon National Historic Trail in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. Oregon places to go include: End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive & Visitor Information Center and Museum of the Oregon Territory in Oregon City; Tamástslikt Cultural Institute, Pendleton; High Desert Museum, Bend; The National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, Baker City.
“The Way West” does not tell you who Native Americans are or were, so make time to go to a cultural center, museum such as National Museum of the American Indian and National Native American Veterans Memorial of the Smithsonian, Washington, D.C.; Crazy Horse Memorial, Crazy Horse, SD; The Indian Memorial at the Little Bighorn Battlefield, Crow Agency, MT; Oneida Nation Museum, De Pere, WI; Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, Albuquerque, NM; Shinnecock Nation Cultural Center & Museum, Southampton, NY; Children's Cultural Center of Native America, NYC; Redhawk Native American Arts Council, Brooklyn, NY; Baltimore American Indian Center & Heritage Museum; Museum of Indian Culture, Allentown, PA.
1967 film “The Way West.” Guthrie wrote screenplay for "Shane" (1953)
“The Way West” is the second entry in Guthrie’s “The Big Sky Series” which begins with “The Big Sky” (1947) and ends with “Fair Land, Fair Land” (1982).