House of Earth Question #23: Four Chapters

by Woody Guthrie

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House of Earth Question #23: Four Chapters

Unread postby fireflydances » Sat Apr 20, 2013 9:09 pm

The book is divided into four chapters, each with their own title or heading: Dry Rosin, Termites, Auction Block and Hammer Ring. Each of these titles was a deliberate choice - the word or words say something about the chapter.

In your own reading of the novel, did the titles capture something unique in each chapter?

Related question: Do you think that Guthrie laid out these titles himself, or did the editors review the contents of each chapter and decide to highlight a particular theme for each?
"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested." Sir Francis Bacon, Of Studies

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Re: House of Earth Question #23: Four Chapters

Unread postby nebraska » Sat Apr 20, 2013 9:26 pm

I don't recall the chapter titles striking a chord with me, so my thought is that it must have been Woody who chose the titles. They "sound like him" rather than sounding like a professional publishing editor.

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Re: House of Earth Question #23: Four Chapters

Unread postby Gilbert's Girl » Sun Apr 21, 2013 3:02 am

Me neither . Can't remember what the first one meant, Termites were mentioned in the second but not sure what the last two had to do with what was in the chapters. :perplexed:
I assumed they were Woody's titles.

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Re: House of Earth Question #23: Four Chapters

Unread postby ladylinn » Sun Apr 21, 2013 12:15 pm

I probably missed it - but I could not find the connection either.

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Re: House of Earth Question #23: Four Chapters

Unread postby fireflydances » Sun Apr 21, 2013 12:27 pm

Well, let's see if we can find the connection. Clue: try the introduction. Also, special award for the person who can explain the significance of dry rosin here.
"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested." Sir Francis Bacon, Of Studies

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Re: House of Earth Question #23: Four Chapters

Unread postby Theresa » Tue Apr 23, 2013 12:51 am

I still can't figure out where "Auction Block" came from. I scanned through the chapter again and didn't find any reference. I did find "Hammer Ring" in the last section--on page 197, when Tike heard his baby's cry.

    When it did dawn on Tike that all of this sounding was coming out from the mouth and the lungs, the belly, of his baby there in the air over that bed, then a feeling of such pride came over him that he felt like a blacksmith's anvil, and he heard in his soul a hundred hammers ring. And he heard his own hammer ring on every over anvil in the whole world. Proud.

Was this a reference to his dream of a Socialistic utopia, since the hammer is one of the symbols of Socialism? I don't know...

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Re: House of Earth Question #23: Four Chapters

Unread postby Buster » Tue Apr 23, 2013 5:13 am

Dry Rosin, hmm.
Well, you use rosin to make your bow have enough friction to make the string sound. When you pull the bow across the string a little bit of fine dust ends up on the instrument.
I guess the image that title brings up is both the act of creating music, and the incessant and unavoidable dust.

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Re: House of Earth Question #23: Four Chapters

Unread postby Buster » Tue Apr 23, 2013 2:49 pm

Impossible not to think of the song:

"I'd hammer out danger
I'd hammer out a warning
I'd hammer love between my brothers and my sisters -
All over this land"

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Re: House of Earth Question #23: Four Chapters

Unread postby Buster » Tue Apr 23, 2013 4:26 pm

"Termites"
Hmm. Well, in the introduction, they wrote
...House of Earth - in which wood is a metaphor for capitalist plunderers while adobe represents a socialist utopia where tenant farmers own land


And, of course, Ella May says
A termite is something that eats up houses and makes things all rotten

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Re: House of Earth Question #23: Four Chapters

Unread postby fireflydances » Tue Apr 23, 2013 5:09 pm

Buster wrote:Impossible not to think of the song:

"I'd hammer out danger
I'd hammer out a warning
I'd hammer love between my brothers and my sisters -
All over this land"


Absolutely!! When I was researching Woody, I figured out that Pete Seeger and Lee Hay's "If I Had a Hammer" was written in 1949, two years after House of Earth was written. I can't help but wonder if the motif of a hammer striking for justice might have been one that Pete and Woody discussed a number of times, as they spent quite a bit of time together during this period. So it ends up in Woody's novel and a song as well.

Here's the Weavers (Seeger, Hays, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman,) singing If I Had A Hammer:

[youtube]FSUsyzUFcKs[/youtube]
"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested." Sir Francis Bacon, Of Studies

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Re: House of Earth Question #23: Four Chapters

Unread postby fireflydances » Tue Apr 23, 2013 5:37 pm

Okay folks I am going to take a stab at Dry Rosin.

To begin with, I know next to nothing -- very next to nothing--about violins and rosin. However, I have learned the following. Rosin is basically dried tree sap (pine trees and the like). It is supposed to be dry. You apply it onto your bow to make the bow more resistant. Which I suppose improves sound -- drag makes more noise than a smooth surface. Humidity degrades rosin.

So, dry rosin is good, not bad.

So I am thinking friction as useful, and playing fiddles as the wonders of creating beauty by using friction. Now, what in that chapter could we say was perhaps illustrating the delights of friction? Just a thought. Although the dry aspect sort of worries me. :-O

I do not know the answer to this one. It has occupied me since I saw those four titles and realized that no one titles anything unless they want the reader to notice it and draw the inference. In that sense I am willing to just brainstorm and see where the various ideas take us.


A little aside now. I asked this question because it was very much a treasure hunt, to see if we could unearth the author's intent. It's a game -- word play games. Sort of like a crossword, but we have only the WORDS and not the questions.

The other thing is -- there are no right answers to this stuff, to any book. It is in the elaborating of our various perspectives that we enrich the experience of the book. The questions are meant to make a person frown and say, hmmm, let me think about this one. We try to construct a range of different kinds of questions also: Ones that anyone, even someone who didn't read the book can answer (men in the delivery room), ones that relate to our personal experience reading the book, ones that ask us to look at a thing from another angle, ones for sheer fun, ones to critique the book, or consider an author's motivations etc.

A book discussion is sort of a performance of voices around a written work. We sing what the book gave each of us. Our voices are different. But in the end, a book discussion should open our heads, leave us wondering.
"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested." Sir Francis Bacon, Of Studies

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Re: House of Earth Question #23: Four Chapters

Unread postby Liz » Tue Apr 23, 2013 9:17 pm

Buster wrote:"Termites"
Hmm. Well, in the introduction, they wrote
...House of Earth - in which wood is a metaphor for capitalist plunderers while adobe represents a socialist utopia where tenant farmers own land


And, of course, Ella May says
A termite is something that eats up houses and makes things all rotten


But termites don't eat adobe?
You can't judge a book by its cover.

The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.

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Re: House of Earth Question #23: Four Chapters

Unread postby Theresa » Tue Apr 23, 2013 9:29 pm

Dry rosin is mentioned at the end of the first chapter, page 51

    A vibration was set up in the air that shook the wall and caused a thimbleful of powdery rosin, rotten wood dust, to sift from under a window board and down on top of an iron cream can. They gritted their teeth in a look of quick and deathly hate as the sound of the falling wood dust struck their ears. Their lips were so tight against their teeth that no living blood could flow, and in the last few rays of the sundown their faces took on a look of pale, fighting bitterness.

Rotten wood dust...

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Re: House of Earth Question #23: Four Chapters

Unread postby shadowydog » Tue Apr 23, 2013 10:19 pm

Ok - an observation and a question.....Rosin is that stuff in that bag on the back of the pitchers mound. And when did "all of my brothers" get changed to "my brothers and sisters" in that song?
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Re: House of Earth Question #23: Four Chapters

Unread postby fireflydances » Tue Apr 23, 2013 10:36 pm

shadowydog wrote:Ok - an observation and a question.....Rosin is that stuff in that bag on the back of the pitchers mound. And when did "all of my brothers" get changed to "my brothers and sisters" in that song?


I didn't realize they were the same thing. Interesting -- to make the ball easier to hold onto (?), makes sense though.

In terms of "my brothers" switching to "my brothers and sisters" I noticed that too, with a small surprise. I wonder whether it indicates a change in perspective in the US from the early 1950s to the mid 1960s? There is another early version (1963) with Pete Seeger singing in front of an Australian crowd and he uses "brothers and sisters." The public role of women continued to change from the early 1940s up through the mid 1960s at least.

Interesting to see it so front and center. But who knows, folk song lyrics are always changing.
"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested." Sir Francis Bacon, Of Studies


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