Last night, we met to discuss Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock by David Margolick. We had a lively discussion, so I’ll try to summarize some of what we talked about:
- One of the first comments from a reader was that he liked how many photos were included in the book. The group has read other books where there are only a few photos, and we agreed that it was helpful to have so many in this one.
- One person said he was impressed by how much detail the author was able to get from people, like what Elizabeth thought Hazel thought Elizabeth thought. Being able to have this be so clear made the book interesting, as well.
- Readers had some general reactions to the book, overall. Several people mentioned that they found the book very sad, and felt sympathy for Elizabeth, especially. **
- One reader stated that she really appreciated that both Elizabeth and Hazel were portrayed in a very realistic light, where nothing was glossed over. She noted that often, nonfiction books tend to be focused on extraordinary people (citing the example of Catherine the Great), and here, we have two very real, normal people. She appreciated how this book gave us the lives of normal people, who led pretty normal lives.
- We had a general discussion about the quote from Bill Clinton on the front of the book, where he says this is an “amazing” story. One person said that the use of the word “amazing” led her to think it would be a different kind of story — that these two women would wind up being best friends after all, for example. We all talked about this word, and said that instead, we’d choose other words, like “interesting,” or “fascinating.”
- We also talked about how the author gave information about the other photos taken that day, and how he analyzed the photo that became famous, as far as composition, light, etc. One person noted it was interesting to think about the role of the media at that time, and how they framed the photo and the situation. Another person said he thought the three photos (p 60-63) were all kind of the same, although it was clear that Hazel “was on a shouting and sneering bender.” We all talked about the other people in the photos, as well, and how young the two women were at the time.
- And speaking of how young both Hazel and Elizabeth were, someone said that while she wasn’t forgiving Hazel’s behavior, it’s easy to see how part of what happened was just someone young, who was caught up in the moment. Another person said that it’s not unusual for teens to gang up on other kids, and also, to take part of something happening because they get caught up in it, and aren’t really thinking it through.
- We had some general discussion about race, and the issues that were at play in 1957, as well as now. We talked about how attitudes were different depending on where people lived, but that they also seem to be generational. For example, as one person said, her grandparents felt one way, but her parents made a conscious choice to be more open-minded, and for the next generation after, those attitudes can be more unconscious. One person brought up the two sentiments from Elizabeth and Hazel about reconciliation (p 262): “True reconciliation can occur only when we honestly acknowledge our painful, but shared, past” – Elizabeth; and “True reconciliation can occur only when we honestly let go of resentment and hatred, and move forward” – Hazel. We talked about some of the issues that seemed particularly prevalent in the South, but also issues in Chicago. While many people feel that there should be some reconciliation and moving forward, we discussed how this can be difficult. As one person said, sometimes, “things can leave scars that can’t be fixed.” We talked about how it may have been a bit unfair of Elizabeth to hold a list of things against Hazel, but that Elizabeth, herself, had issues with depression, and that most likely had a big impact on how able she was to really reconcile with Hazel. One person mentioned a video he had seen about a boy who had put together a video about how he coped with being bullied — and very nicely provided me with a link (click HERE to see the video: “Bullies called him a pork chop. He took that pain with him and cooked it into this.”).
- Talking about the decision to choose these students to integrate this school, one person said, “They dropped these kids into a war zone.” We talked about the decision, and also about how the students, in general, reacted to these nine kids. One person noted that she would be interested to know how many of those students would actually remember how they acted, and said that most of them would probably say they weren’t antagonistic, but didn’t stand up for the nine students (which made us wonder how many of them would actually confess to being the ones who bullied the nine students, including Elizabeth). We also discussed how little support there was for the nine students; the National Guard wasn’t sent in to protect them, for example, and even many teachers at the school weren’t supportive.
- Lastly, we talked about Elizabeth and Hazel, themselves. Some people said that they wound up empathizing more with Hazel than they had expected to, considering how hateful and awful she was at the age of fifteen. We talked about how for both women, they were shaped by not only their families, but the attitudes of the people around them. We also talked about how Hazel was able to change her perspective and attitude, and that she offered an apology (several, actually), but that many of the people in the town never seemed to at all.
Overall, we felt this was a good book, which was an interesting and fast read, and which generated some great discussion. If anyone would like to add their thoughts on the book, or our discussion, we welcome comments.