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Bleachers

 
STUDY GUIDE - BLEACHERS BY JOHN GRISHAM
SETTING
The town of Messina, probably in the state of Mississippi in the present day, with flashbacks of football seasons in the sixties, seventies, and eighties.
CHARACTER ANALYSIS
Eddie Rake
He is the head football coach of 34 years at Messina High School who is dying as the story begins. Through the memories of his players, especially Neely Crenshaw, the reader meets a man of inordinate skills and talents who not only goes down into the legend of the town, but into the hearts of the young men he coached. Like most human beings, he is...........
Neely Crenshaw
Neely is a troubled man of 30 when he returns to his hometown to sit a death vigil for his former football coach, Eddie Rake. He has a love-hate relationship with this man whom he hasn’t seen for.........
Paul Curry
He is Neely’s best friend and was the co-captain of the ’87 Spartans. He never left Messina, having taken over his father’s position in the family banking business. He is the...........
Silo Mooney
He also played on the ’87 team and was the meanest player on both the offense and defense. Coach Rake cursed and screamed at him more than any other player, but none of his players loves Rake more. He is...........
Nat Sawyer
The only openly gay
 
shop owner in Messina, Nat played on the ’87 team as well. He was the world’s worst punter, but through little more than ineptness, managed to...........
Sheriff Mal Brown
One of Rake’s earliest players, he now is the county sheriff and likes to throw his weight around. He is described as a heavy eater and a heavy hitter, threatening to bust Silo Mooney the first..........

PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS
The author divides the novel
 
into four days - Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday - rather than into chapters. This effectively emphasizes the idea of a vigil...........

AUTHOR’S STYLE
The author’s style largely involves flashback in order to tell all the stories about Rake over his 34 years as a coach. He also tells the story mainly from the..........
RISING ACTION
The rising action begins with Neely Crenshaw’s return to Messina and his first visit to Rake Field in 15 years. It follows his experiences during the..........
FALLING ACTION
he falling action begins with Neely’s eulogy for Coach Rake, when the townspeople and the former players can’t brings themselves to leave after his funeral. Only Rabbit firing up the...........
POINT OF VIEW
The point of view is third person omniscient. It is seen through the eyes of an all-knowing, all-seeing omniscient narrator, who is the author himself, but..........
MOOD
The mood is often somber, bitter, and filled with regret. However, it is also uplifting as so many people come to realize the great influence Eddie Rake had on their lives. It is also uplifting, because the reader realizes that when a man can apologize as both Eddie and Neely do to those they have hurt, then nothing but good can come of it in so many ways.
THEMES - THEME ANALYSIS
Forgiveness
The first and most important theme is that of forgiveness. Eddie Rake slapped Neely for losing the first half of the championship game in 1987 which prompted Neely to knock his coach out. Neely himself had drifted through the last 15 years of his life, bitter about his knee injury
 
and his wife leaving him. Now, Neely must not only forgive his coach for all that he had done to him, but he must also forgive himself for his own bitterness, his weakness in being unable to give up football, and his cruelty to others like Cameron. Through the vigil for Eddie Rake, he also sits a vigil for who he used to be. He leaves his town better able to live with who he’s become, and the town he leaves is better able to live with the rift created by the death of one of Eddie Rake’s players.
What Makes True Greatness?
The second theme is what makes true greatness? Eddie Rake was a flawed human just as we all are. He made mistakes that eventually led to his losing his job and from some of his players feeling bitter toward him. However, at his death vigil and funeral, the reader is allowed to see that he was a truly great man. He loved his players even though he couldn’t show it. He loved his family even though he dominated them. He wanted to win for all the right reasons even though he didn’t know how to lose. What’s more, he believed in justice and sincerely cared for people in need. His greatness came about in the way he influenced all those whose lives he touched. Even while they hated his tactics, those young football players could never get his voice out of their heads when they were about to do something wrong and couldn’t bear the shame when they misbehaved anyway. He helped mold their characters for the better and ached for them and with them when they fell short. As a result, he passed on to the next generation through them a true way to live life properly. What he taught will be passed on to the children of his players and perhaps even farther and that’s what makes a man truly great.
Life Isn't Always Fair
Another important theme is that life isn’t always fair. This is a lesson Neely has a hard time learning. He spends 15 years of his life feeling bitter, because he suffers a career-ending knee injury that prevents him from ever playing professional football and because his wife leaves him after suffering two miscarriages (even though he drove a former girlfriend to an abortion clinic to destroy his first child). He is also bitter about what Coach Rake had done to him in the locker room during the championship game of 1987. He has never been able to forgive the man until he returns to his old hometown for the first time in 15 years to sit a death vigil for the man. It is only when he goes home again that Neely learns that life isn’t always fair, but that a man of true character finds a way to overcome the bitterness and live a life that brings him happiness.
Misplaced Priorities
A final theme concerns the idea of misplaced priorities. There is a sense that for these young men the pressure of being a championship football team exacts terrible consequences. The worst of these is the belief that they are nothing if they cannot play football, and some go through life never coming to terms with high school graduation. For a town like Messina, there is the loss that other students have to face if they are not football players. Their sports and academics never receive the funding that the football team does, and it’s terrible to imagine how their potential might have been fulfilled if they had been given the same opportunities. This is a lesson that the author subtlely alludes to, but nonetheless makes the reader think about. Where do we put our funds that will do the most good for the most students, and how do we deal with citizens who only want to see a winning team so that they have bragging rights over other towns? It is a conundrum that much of America faces, especially in small towns where the funding is the smallest.
 
SYMBOLISM / MOTIFS / METAPHORS / IMAGERY / SYMBOLS
Other elements that are present in this novel are symbols and metaphors. Symbols are the use of some unrelated idea to represent something else. Metaphors are direct comparisons made between characters and ideas. There are many symbols and metaphors used by the author such as:


1. There was a monument with a brick base and a bronze bust of Rake himself. Under the bust were all the statistics he had amassed. This symbolizes how Rake was a kind of god.............

MOTIFS
Another element found in this book is a motif. A motifis a recurring thematic element in the development of an artistic or literary work. There is one important motif in Bleachers: the motif of the catharsis some..........
CONFLICT
Protagonist
The Protagonist is Neely Crenshaw whose life has gone anywhere but where he hoped it would go. He had been the greatest quarterback in Messina history, but his glory days came to an end with a knee injury during his sophomore year at Tech. He had been struck by Coach Rake during halftime of the ’87 championship game, and as a result, he hadn’t returned to Messina in 15 years. He comes back for the vigil for Coach Rake, but he finds that the bleachers are the place where he can come to terms with his ambivalence about the Coach.
Antagonist
One antagonist is Coach Rake. His coaching style made him a legend, but some of his players come away somewhat scarred. He was the kind of man whom his players either loved or hated, and he definitely affected their lives in both good and bad ways. He is an integral part in making them men, but for Neely, he is someone he must come to terms with before he can continue to live his life.
A second antagonist is Neely himself. He hasn’t become the person he had hoped to become and his memories are filled with the conflict with Coach Rake. In order to become a better person, he must accept how the coach influenced him and how that influence can help him change himself for the better.
Climax
The climax occurs when Neely Crenshaw appears as the third eulogist for Coach Eddie Rake. The reader doesn’t expect him to be the one to speak well of his memories of his coach, because we have seen him turn away from Rake and Messina football so often throughout the book.
Outcome
The outcome involves the catharsis that both Neely and the town of Messina experience as a result of the death of Eddie Rake. The split in the town over Rake’s firing is resolved through the eulogies of three of his players and the note that he himself leaves behind. They all learn to forgive and go on with their lives, knowing that he was a great man even though he was very human. He made mistakes, but by the time of his funeral, the mistakes have been accepted by all concerned, and the good times can be remembered. Neely then leaves Messina knowing that he can come back again and smile when Eddie Rake’s name is mentioned or even tell a story about him with a happy ending.
SHORT SUMMARY (Synopsis)
This novel is a brief narrative about a town and its high school football program. By focusing on a minimum of characters, the most important being Eddie Rake and Neely Crenshaw, the author presents the consequences when winning becomes everything to everyone. Neely and his former teammates return to Messina, their hometown, to sit vigil while their former coach, Eddie Rake lies dying. Using the technique of flashback, the author shows us the impact Eddie had on all his players and the town where they lived. However, it is especially his impact on Neely that is most emphasized. Neely had left the town 15 years before when he had an altercation with the coach during halftime of the ’87 championship game. His subsequent career in football was ruined by a knee injury, his wife left him, and combined with his love-hate relationship with Rake, he has drifted through life a bitter man. Now with Rake’s death comes his chance to resolve all these conflicts.
 
 
QUOTES - IMPORTANT QUOTATIONS AND ANALYSIS
The following quotations are important at various points in the story (Dell, 2004):
1. “No piece of ground in Messina was more revered than The Field. Not even the cemetery.”

(pg. 3; This emphasizes the importance of football in Messina.)
2. “Eddie Rake was a legend at the age of thirty-nine.”

(pg. 9; This prepares the reader for the coming story of how Rake became the greatest of high school coaches.)


3. “I wish I had never seen a football.”

(pg. 14; These words from Neely reinforce his ambivalence about his football
career.) ...........
 
............. 21. “And when the name of Eddie Rake was mentioned, he would smile and maybe laugh and tell a story of his own. One with a happy ending.”

(pg. 229; This is the final line in the
book and really shows that Neely has lost all his bitterness.)


 
ESSAY TOPICS - BOOK REPORT IDEAS
1. Explain how Scotty Reardon’s death is an example of how adults can go too far while teaching children
 
or young people about life.
2. Describe what happens in the bleachers while the players wait for Coach Rake to die. How does this experience contribute to Neely’s catharsis?...........


............. 10. Neely leaves the other players who came to the funeral with the promise that he will return the following year to mark the first anniversary of Eddie Rake’s death with them. Do you think he will keep his promise? Why or why not? Be specific.