The Plot Line
He writes, "The Wards have beauty and brains, but no idea how to stay financially solvent until the mysterious appearance of a peddler woman (Hannah) who offers them her services as a kind of all-purpose maid and housekeeper. Hannah herself has just given up a baby for adoption and is in desperate straits, but soon makes herself indispensable, especially with the two small children and a third child born shortly thereafter. From this starting point, the story flashes back to explain Hannah's history, and progresses for the next twenty years or so, until all the children are grown. Several other important characters are people who have befriended or betrayed Hannah over the years, and who take an interest in her son.
"Hannah is noted for a great deal of practical wisdom, and gives impetuous Professor Ward the encouragement he needs to follow through with the invention of a refrigerator. When his first plans are stolen, she encourages him to come up with something better, rather than to waste his resources fighting a legal battle. Eventually he becomes a very successful man, and is able to give Hannah the encouragement and help she needs when she fears that her son is going to choose a life of wealthy indolence. Because Hannah has very strong ideas of class distinction and wants her son to become somebody important, she has never revealed to him that she is his mother.
"Major themes in the story are nonresistance, personal integrity, courage, industry, forgiveness, and responsibility. There is also a little romance, some of it very touching. As to religion, there is an acknowlegement of a mysterious providential force of some kind, but the characters express uncertainty whether it be "They, He, or It" and generally seem embarrassed at the thought of being perceived to be superstitious. Their beliefs are based on personal experiences and logic, not on any written revelation."
Another reviewer, Fran Zabawa, writes, "White Banners embraces a thread that Lloyd C. Douglas carries throughout many of his works. That thread, I believe, is doing good especially when you know you will never receive recognition for it. Even more, doing good without getting caught. In one of his other works he carries that theme to the point that if you do something good and either boast about it or someone finds out about it, it doesn't 'count'."
I also read another reviewer - can't find the quote right now - that said this book was considered by some to be one of Douglas' best work - while others - just as vehemently - said it was his worst!
So I was thrilled to find this blog written Oct. 14. 2012 by Bernard Goldberg about White Banners. It felt a little like my story.
"Every once in a while a book comes along that literally changes your life, and the way you see things. This book by Lloyd C. Douglas, “White Banners” was one of these books for me. When my grandparents passed away, many years ago, and the family went through all their possessions as families often do, the treasures that I was so blessed with were many of my grandfather’s books. They had a distinct smell to them, of decades of cigarette smoke, but I was glad to have them regardless. Among these was a book by Lloyd C. Douglas, “The Robe.” in the over 15 years since, this book has adorned every bookshelf of mine, and the cigarette odor has now diminished to a linger, a welcome revisit of my grandparents home whenever I open it. Why did I talk about this? Because, when I had the occasion to purchase “White Banners” for a paltry twenty-five cents at my local library, the author’s name rang a familiar bell. Little did I know as I embarked on this journey back in time, through a book written in 1936, that this journey would have such a distinct effect on me.
"The setting is in Indiana, in 1919. A cold and wintery day, a lady named Hannah Parmalee comes to the door of a financially struggling couple, Professor Paul Ward, and his wife Marcia, and their two children, Roberta and Wally, (with one on the way, who will be little Sally). Hannah, is resourceful, but homeless, and trying to care for her needs by selling apple peelers for twenty-five cents each. Marcia, though somewhat taken back by this kind peddler, compassionately agrees to purchase one, and offers Hannah something to eat. Hannah, gratefully accepts, and seeing that this family could use a little help, ends up staying on for room and board as their housekeeper. So begins this tale of private courage, and an novel length illustration of how a word, or a lifetime of words, aptly spoken are truly apples of gold.
"The story details the life of this family, and because of the wisdom of one who truly believes in pacifism, and that not necessarily fighting for what you believe is your rightful place in this world, or possessions, can yield a much richer treasure in the long haul, one can rise above every expectation. It is a story of turning the other cheek, of private courage. It is a tale of moral excellence. One of my favorite passages, on page 93, of this 400 page masterpiece:
" A young man named Philip, is speaking to a much younger Hannah in her memory, “Imagine the case of a man who had used all his ingenuity to build up something for himself, and after he had succeeded to the point of being able to sit down and enjoy the rewards of his work some circumstance stripped him of everything he had, requiring him to take up the struggle again in a different field. Wouldn’t he be much more valuable to himself–and society– for having such an experience? Suppose a man consented to five time giving up everything and make a new place for himself under conditions that forced him into new habits of mind, wouldn’t it be a wonderful developer?'
" All I can say is that I should like to adopt this attitude Mr. Lloyd C. Douglas, to see if it will yield a richer character within me, one that will be pleasing to my Lord, and my family as well. Thank you Paw-Paw, for choosing authors that would teach your grandson, long after you had left this side of the river, and my library for making such available to all regardless of their station."
Though I appreciate and agree with these reviewers….I was intrigued that none of them - not even the movie - referred to the part of the plot that grabbed my imagination the most. I had to go back to the book to see if it was truly there – I went back again and again…..
After I had read it through the first time in our honey moon suite in Vancouver, I read it again in 2013 on the plane coming home from my younger sisters' funeral, and now again.
Each time - I am struck again by the importance of how important that one scene is to me and to the whole book -- yet no one else seems to notice it.
It is there….pg. 79. Believe me - it is there!
“A talent for truth is real property. If a man loves truth better than things, people like to be around where he is. Almost everybody wishes he could be honest, but you can’t have the spirit of truth when your heart is set on dickering for things.” ― Lloyd C. Douglas, The Robe