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American Dirt


"American Dirt is a Grapes of Wrath for our times."
—Don Winslow
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Discuss American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins:
Do you think Lydia is a stand-in for the reader and that the author is sending a broader message?

Created: 02/06/20

Replies: 7

Posted Feb. 06, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
davinamw

Join Date: 10/15/10

Posts: 2143

Do you think Lydia is a stand-in for the reader and that the author is sending a broader message?

"Lydia had been aware of the migrant caravans coming from Guatemala and Honduras in the way comfortable people living stable lives are peripherally aware of destitution. She heard their stories on the news radio while she cooked dinner in her kitchen. Mothers pushing strollers thousands of miles, small children walking holes into the bottoms of their pink Crocs, hundreds of families banding together for safety, gathering numbers as they walked north for weeks, hitching rides in the backs of trucks whenever they could, riding La Bestia whenever they could, sleeping in fútbol stadiums and churches, coming all that way to el norte to plead for asylum.

Lydia chopped onions and cilantro in her kitchen while she listened to their histories. They fled violence and poverty, gangs more powerful than their governments. She listened to their fear and determination, how resolved they were to reach Estados Unidos or die on the road in that effort, because staying at home meant their odds of survival were even worse. On the radio, Lydia heard those walking mothers singing to their children, and she felt a pang of emotion for them. She tossed chopped vegetables into hot oil, and the pan sizzled in response. That pang Lydia felt had many parts: it was anger at the injustice, it was worry, compassion, helplessness. But in truth, it was a small feeling, and when she realized she was out of garlic, the pang was subsumed by domestic irritation. Dinner would be bland" (chapter 26, pages 276–277).

Do you think the narrator intends for the reader to wholeheartedly censure Lydia in this scene? Do you think Lydia is a stand-in for the reader and that the author is sending a broader message? After reading the author's note, do you think the author includes herself in this group?


Posted Feb. 09, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
melanieb

Join Date: 08/30/14

Posts: 180

RE: Do you think Lydia is a stand-in for the reader and that the author is sending a broader message?

Yes. I think the author is reminding the reader that this could happen to them too.


Posted Feb. 11, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
elianas

Join Date: 02/11/20

Posts: 1

RE: Do you think Lydia is a stand-in for the reader and that the author is sending a broader message?

Lydia is definitely standing in for this reader. It happens every time I watch the evening news. I listen to the sad and tragic stories, I feel sad, sympathetic, frustrated, helpless. Then dinner is ready, I turn off the TV and sit down and think about how grateful I am to be where I am.


Posted Feb. 11, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
peggyt

Join Date: 08/10/17

Posts: 143

RE: Do you think Lydia is a stand-in for the reader and that the author is sending a broader message?

I think so but maybe it is because Lydia makes this experience more relatable to the average middle class female reader.


Posted Feb. 12, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
djcminor

Join Date: 03/14/19

Posts: 77

RE: Do you think Lydia is a stand-in for the reader and that the author is sending a broader message?

I find myself in disagreement with Lydia as a stand-in for the reader. She's making dinner and has all she needs except garlic and thinks her dinner will then be bland. When I read that last line from the book about the bland dinner, I felt it cheapened the struggle Lydia had just been sympathizing with concerning others. They are struggling in a life and death situation and she is out of garlic.


Posted Feb. 12, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
acstrine

Join Date: 02/06/17

Posts: 211

RE: Do you think Lydia is a stand-in for the reader and that the author is sending a broader message?

I think you make a vey good point, djcminor. But I wonder if it was because Lydia had only an outsider's perspective of the migrants. She had not yet experienced anything that would have caused her to put herself in the shoes of the migrants she was hearing about on the news. She was removed from the situation. I know many people who read or see pictures of what is happening at the borders. They empathize, but then the pressing matters of car pools, jobs, kids' activities interrupt and they get back to their own lives. They may think about volunteering at a migrant shelter, writing a letter to their Congressmen, making a donation to a campaign or non-profit- - but don't because really this isn't about them or doesn't affect them or there just isn't time. Many states are so far away from the U.S. border with Mexico. People who live in Illinois, perhaps, feel less connected to the events than those in New Mexico. I think one thing I can take from this is that feeling empathy isn't enough. Maybe empathy is an action.


Posted Feb. 15, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
shannonl

Join Date: 12/04/17

Posts: 19

RE: Do you think Lydia is a stand-in for the reader and that the author is sending a broader message?

NO! I think Lydia is just who she is....a primary character in the novel. I do think there is a very modest message but it is in the story-telling and the credibility of the author...I think, considering her personal experiences, she did very well at not hitting her readers over the head with messages and/or politics.


Posted Mar. 25, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
taking.mytime's Gravatar
taking.mytime

Join Date: 03/29/16

Posts: 169

RE: Do you think Lydia is a stand-in for the reader and that the author is sending a broader message?

I believe we read books that either relate to us, or are so far out of the realm of possibility they could never relate. At least those are the ones that we remember the best. American Dirt at first seems far removed from our daily lives. But then so did the Corona Virus a few weeks ago.

It takes a special author to allow you to place yourself within a books pages and become the protagonist. Cummins was able to do that. I am not sure that that was her intention when she started out, but all good authors want their book to relate to as many people as it can. This book opened up the possibility that we do not know our future and in similar circumstances we could easily see ourselves moving much as Lydia did, from a comfortable lifestyle to a desperate mother on the run, protecting our children and searching for a place of peace and security.


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