So I JUST found out that Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’ is coming to theaters in 2018! It’s perfect timing since I read her book over the summer and have not stopped thinking about it since. One of the reasons I even started this blog is because of books like Dumplin’. I just HAD to talk about it with someone so here are a few questions I had…
*** Disclaimer: The discussion posts are meant to start a conversation over plot points and character choices. This is NOT meant to come across as a school essay prompt. ***
- Within the first couple pages I found myself cheering Willowdean on for how comfortable she was in her skin. Naturally, I knew this idea couldn’t last through the whole novel. What person (fictional or not) doesn’t have bad self-image days? But its exactly this body-positivity that has gotten a lot of criticism. Some say that Will is a hypocrite and others say her body-positivity can’t be genuine. So here are a few quotes that stood out to me:
“the word fat makes people uncomfortable. But when you see me, the first thing you notice is my body. And my body is fat. It’s like how some girls have big boobs or shiny hair or knobby knees. Those things are okay to say. But the word fat, the one that best describes me, makes lips frown and cheeks lose their color. But that’s me. I’m fat. It’s not a cuss word. It’s not an insult. At least not when I say it” (9).
“All my life I have had a body worth commenting on and if living in my skin has taught me anything it’s that if its not your body, its not yours to comment on (33)”
What did you think of Will’s body-positive self-image at the beginning of the book?
- What did you think of the dichotomy between parenting figures: Lucy vs. Rosie?
On the one hand, the argument could be made that Rosie was just trying to protect her daughter from meeting the same fate as Lucy. All the diets and pointed comments could be seen as mere suggestions for how she can be thin and happy and live a full life; “[Lucy] would still be here if she just lost the weight” (133).
On the other hand, Will tells us that she has spent most of her life feeling like her mother was ashamed of her for how she looked while Lucy gave Will an anchor to center herself on, comfort, and a clear perspective;
“Will, I’ve wasted a lot of time in my life. I’ve thought too much about what people are gonna say or what they are gonna think. And sometimes its over silly things like going to the grocery store or going the post office. But there have been times when I really stopped myself from doing something special. All because I was scared someone might look at me and decide I wasn’t good enough. But you don’t have to bother with that nonsense. I wasted all that time so you don’t have to (25-6)”.
There are a few points of high contention between Will and her mom but one of them really could have set the pace for the rest of Will and Rosie’s relationship: when Will wants to enter the pageant (that her mother is a judge of) but she needs parental consent. Will whole-heartedly believes her mother won’t give her permission and it does look that way at first. Rosie hesitates and all Will can do is lay her feelings bare, “Mom, if you don’t sign this form, you’re saying I’m not good enough. You’re saying that most every girl in that room right now is prettier and more deserving than me (158).”
Do you believe Rosie is ultimately on Will’s side?
- What do you make of Will’s relationship with Bo and how that seemed to change her self-image?
When the unlikely, attractive bad boy, Bo, starts to fall for Will, her body-positive idealism seems to waver; “me shrinking away from his touch embarrasses me in a way I don’t entirely understand (59)”. Her righteous indignation takes over and we get a glimpse into what we thought were long buried insecurities, “I won’t be ridiculed. I won’t be one-half of the couple who everyone stares and asks, how did she get him” (88). There is a lot of criticism from various reviewers around this issue because she seems to go back on everything she believes about herself. Do you think that criticism is valid or do you think her idealism just has not been tested until Bo comes into the picture?
- Is Ellen a better friend than Will?
Ellen wanted to support her friend by entering the pageant along with Will and Will hurt her deeply when she told El she couldn’t enter the pageant along with her because Ellen “could actually win… and that’s not the point” (163). Like any female friendship, these girls have unspoken insecurities about their friendship that bubbles up (and over) at a certain point. Will tends to believe that Ellen has it made; she has a good boyfriend, she’s pretty, thin, and semi-popular at school. Considering Will’s perspective, is it understandable why Will would not want her to distract from the social statement she’s making by entering the pageant? What Will cannot see right away is that Ellen “feels just as out of place” (163) as Will does.
Where could Will have been a better friend to Ellen?
Do you think Will is a good friend at all?
When the other social misfits at school see Will enter the pageant and decide to do the same, Will brushes those girls off to the side because she “doesn’t want to be responsible” for the ridicule they will face. However, she must come to terms with the fact that, whether she likes it or not, she gave a voice to other girls who felt like they had none. One of them says to her “you’re doing it. And that’s important. I want to be a part of that” (154). Does she truly befriend these girls or is her friendship with them only because she lost Ellen?
- What do you think of her reasons for entering the pageant?
When Will decides to enter the pageant, she knows she is making a risky move but she is not doing it out of spite or just to make a spectacle, she says she is not “trying to be some kind of Joan of Fat Girls or whatever. I’m doing this for Lucy. And for me. I’m ready to go back to being the version of myself before Bo. I’m entering this pageant because there’s no reason I shouldn’t. I’m doing this because I want to cross the line between me and the rest of the world. Not to be someone’s savior (155-6)”.
Are her reasons for entering the pageant misplaced? Empowering?
- When the stress of the pageant and everything around it gets to Will, she has a mental breakdown where it seems like she is going to quit. She can’t find a talent, she’s still not talking to El, she can’t get over Bo, she can’t muster the same love for Mitch as she has for Bo, things are not great with her mom, she misses her aunt terribly, the list goes on. What do you think of Hannah trying to shake Will out of it when she says:
“You don’t deserve to win anything or be in any pageant until you make the effort and do the work. Maybe fat girls or girls with limps or with big teeth don’t usually win beauty pageants. Maybe that’s not the norm. but the only way to change that is to be present. We can’t expect the same things these other girls do until we demand it. Because no one is lining up to give us shit, Will (325).”
- What do you make of Will’s obsession with Dolly Parton?
Dolly Parton is an ongoing symbol in this book. She’s Will’s inspiration, Lucy’s inspiration, El’s inspiration (although I could argue whether that’s really true), and this quote from Will really sums the meaning of Dolly up as far as I noticed:
“If I had to listen to one song for the rest of my life it would be Jolene…it takes a special kind of heartbreak to really call the song your own. I mean, Dolly Parton- THE Dolly Parton- is singing to some mysterious Jolene who she thinks is more beautiful and more worthy than her, begging her not to take her man…it’s a reminder that no matter who you are, there will always be someone prettier or smarter or thinner. Perfection is nothing more than a phantom shadow we are all chasing (211-2).”
So, what do you guys think? Comment below and share your thoughts!