THE BIBLE SALESMAN
BY CLYDE EDGERTON
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Henry is a bible salesman.
Clearwater is a car thief.
Henry needs a ride.
Clearwater needs an assistant.
The second World War is over, and nineteen-year-old Henry Dampier walks the roads of North Carolina, selling bibles. When Clearwater offers him a lift, Henry thinks it is a lucky day that only gets better with Clearwater’s “confession” of being an FBI agent in need of aid. Henry joyfully seizes the opportunity to lead a double life as bible salesman and G-man.Preston Clearwater has been a criminal since stealing two chain saws and 1,600 pairs of aviator sunglasses from the army during the Second World War. Back on the road in postwar
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Few who knew Clyde Edgerton during his childhood would have predicted that he would grow up to be a writer. Odds would have been placed on his being either a professional baseball player or a rock musician, or, if his parent's wishes had been fulfilled, a missionary or a concert pianist. He loved to hunt and fish and hang out with his “good buddies.” There was little indication that he had the slightest literary leanings. Clyde's decision to be a serious writer was a very deliberate one, but somewhat of a surprise even to him. He had been keeping a journal, jotting down ideas, feelings, characters, and events on paper. He planned to use this resource in case he continued to write. In May 1978, Edgerton watched Welty read one of her stories on public television. That night he wrote in his journal: " May 14, 1978 —Tomorrow, May 15, 1978 —I would like to start being a writer." That was the beginning of a career that has resulted in the creation of eight novels.
Questions and topics for discussion
1. Henry sells free Bibles he receives from Bible societies across the country, which he has requested under less-than-honest pretenses. Discuss how Henry reconciles his actions with his morality. Does he feel that his actions are acceptable? Do you?
2. From the moment Henry and Preston meet, Henry’s innocence contrasts with the older man’s manipulativeness. Discuss the relationship between these men. How does Henry’s naïveté ultimately allow him to upset Preston’s plans for him? In what ways are the two men similar?
3. Henry’s family is charitable (sending blankets to Yancy), but their church is sometimes harsh (warning the child Henry about being a blasphemer). How does Henry’s Uncle Jack help him navigate these contradictions?
4. How do the elderly, especially women, contribute to the comic scenes in The Bible Salesman? Does their unworldliness add to their being funny? Are they similar to Henry in this respect?
5. The Biblical characters of Abraham, his wife Sarah, and his mistress Hagar intrigue and puzzle Henry. Does his knowing their story make it easier for him to accept his attraction to Marleen Green?
6. Henry’s childhood is revealed over the course of The Bible Salesman, as are the numerous forces that shaped his Christianity—Aunt Dorie, the Bible salesman instructor, and Henry’s church, just to name a few. To what extent does each influence how he approaches his faith? How do his beliefs change over the course of the novel?
7. Although he initially views Henry as a gullible boy, Preston eventually realizes that he is not as clueless as he thought. How do you see Henry? Did your opinion change as you read? Why and in what ways?
8. Henry’s beloved Uncle Jack is ejected from a surfside club as “white trash.” Clearwater feels justified in burglarizing a plantation house owned by rich northerners in Florida. Does class conflict lead to the doctor’s death in Drain, Georgia? Or is Clearwater’s character the sole culprit?
9. In what ways does Henry mature from a child to an adult over the course of the novel? How is he still like a boy? What characters and events influence his growth? Do you think it is possible to maintain a positive outlook such as his in the face of the trials of adulthood?
10. Henry and Preston’s journey through the South is the focus of the novel, but they travel in other ways as well. How does movement, in both the physical and psychological sense, cause the characters to change? Do you think Henry would be the same man at the end of the novel had he not partnered with Preston?
11. Family reunions play a big part in Henry’s past. How does the extended family unify the disparate personalities and bloodlines in The Bible Salesman? Does it assuage the fact that Henry’s parents are absent and that his sister’s son looks nothing like his brother-in-law?
12. Did The Bible Salesman inspire you to compare parts of the Hebrew Bible to the King James Version and the Chicago Bible? If so, what differences in interpretations of the text did you find interesting?
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