A Fine White Dust

by Cynthia Rylant

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In A Fine White Dust, what is the significance of the Preacher Man/James W. Carson's name?

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In his hunger for The Word, Pete finds an immediate sense of fulfillment James W. Carson's teaching, and gives him the name Preacher Man.  It is interesting to note, though, that Pete is confused from the start as to what it is about Preacher Man that appeals to him.  He says, "I was hungry for the Word...and he did know the Word...what did he say...doesn't matter...but he had a way..." (Chapter 3). 

I think the fact that throughout the book Pete alternately refers to Carson as Preacher Man and the Man, a title that is sometimes used to refer to Jesus Christ, is significant because, taken as he is by Carson's charisma, Pete really does confuse Carson with a Christ figure.  Carson contributes to this confusion, telling Rufus, "lately I come from heaven" (Chapter 6), and declaring to Pete that he sometimes feels "like I am nearly Jesus Christ himself" (Chapter 7).  It is only when Pete starts to separate the man from the message (Preacher Man from the message of Christ the Man) that he begins to understand the important things in his life and the meaning of his faith.

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