Mudbound Summary

Hillary Jordan


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Mudbound Summary

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Mudbound by Hillary Jordan is a novel about the changes two families undergo as the result of one night’s event —and everything leading up to that event. As the book opens, Laura, upon turning thirty, has decided that she will never marry. When she meets Henry McAllan mere weeks later, her life takes a different trajectory. Henry works with Laura’s brother and, after only a few weeks of courting, must leave for work. Once more, Laura thinks her chances for marrying are slim. Two months later, Henry comes back and proposes to Laura.

After their marriage, they start a family in Memphis with two daughters. They are happy together until war with Germany claims the lives of two of Laura’s brothers. After the war ends, Henry’s brother-in-law kills himself. Because of this, Henry decides they need to move. He purchases a farm in Mississippi so they can help look after his sister, now a widow.

Laura does not want to move. Leaving Memphis means leaving her family. She does not want to live on a farm, either, but Henry assures her that he has secured a rental house in Marietta, so she does not have to live on the farm. However, when they get there, everything seems to fall apart. The rental home was a scam, so they have to live on the farm. There is no electricity or running water. What makes this change more difficult is that Henry brings his father to live with them, and he is difficult to get along with.

When Henry and Laura arrive at the farm, there are six families living and working on the land as tenants. After purchasing a tractor, Henry asks half of them to leave because he does not need them to work the land anymore. One of the remaining families is the Jackson family. Laura quickly befriends Florence Jackson, but this creates tension because Henry’s father reveals his prejudice against black people. When Florence’s husband, Hap, breaks his leg, Florence must take his place working in the field, and Laura misses her companionship.

Henry has another brother, Jamie. He comes to stay with them at the same time Florence’s son, Ronsel, returns from the now-ended war. Jamie suffers from PTSD and turns to drinking to soothe the emotional agony he suffers from the war. As he becomes more and more depressed, he befriends Ronsel. Together, they drink often. When Pappy, Henry’s father, sees Ronsel in the front seat of the farm truck, he becomes angry. He finds a letter that confirms that Ronsel fathered a child with a white woman. He decides that he will put together a lynch mob to punish Ronsel. Jamie interrupts the mob and tries to stop them, but they end up forcing him to choose a punishment for Ronsel. Ronsel lives, but his tongue is cut out by the mob. Florence discovers this and seeks revenge, but Jamie has beat her to it;he has killed Pappy.

There are several important themes in Mudbound: inequality, passion, and family. Ronsel must deal with the issue of inequality. Him is shocked to come home and find racism as rampant as when he left to fight in the war. In his experience in Europe during World War II, race did not define his surroundings. When he returns, it is to prejudice. Because Ronselis bolder than he had been before he left, Pappy and others view his boldness as attempting to cross a racial divide, deciding to enact violence against Ronsel. There are other types of inequality in the novel—for example, Laura finds that she was treated as less a person before her marriage to Henry than afterward.

For Laura, passion comes into her life when she marries Henry, though it isnot as strong as the passion she feels for Jamie when he comes to stay with them on the farm. However, she ultimately decides that the mild passion she shares with Henry is better suited for her life. Henry’s passion for the land and farming it is both a blessing and a curse. It pushes him to work hard to learn how to work the land, but it also blinds him to the troubles brewing in his sphere. Laura’s unhappiness, Jamie’s drunkenness, and the racial tension between Pappy and Ronsel all bubble to a boil while Henry is focused on the farm.

Several types of family relations are depicted. Florence’s family sticks together and loves one another. The Atwood family is the opposite—they are dysfunctional. Carl is a violent drunk who sexually abuses his child. His wife murders him to protect their children. Their family falls apart. In the middle of loving and dysfunctional is Laura’s family. There are aspects, like moving to the farm to look after Henry’s sister, that are loving. Other aspects though, like the tension between Jamie and Pappy, are dysfunctional. The type of family motivates the characters.