A Long Way from Chicago

by Richard Peck

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Discussion Topic

Grandma Dowdel's lies and the town's belief about Shotgun Cheatham in 'A Long Way from Chicago'


In A Long Way from Chicago, Grandma Dowdel's lies about Shotgun Cheatham create an exaggerated legend that the townspeople eagerly believe. Her fabrications transform Cheatham from an obscure figure into a celebrated war hero, illustrating her cunning nature and the town's gullibility.

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Why did Grandma in 'A Long Way From Chicago' lie about Shotgun Cheatham being a Civil War hero?

It's in Grandma's character profile to spin yarns and stretch the truth. This is a little wicked pleasure she indulges in whenever possible, partly to test people's gullibility and reaction to her fibbing, partly to gain a feeling of power over a sticky situation.

In this particular case, Grandma wants to sensationalize a story around a person to embellish its interest and to turn 'a local boy' into some kind of folk hero; perhaps she also wants to undermine the reporters' credibility by furnishing them 'information' that isn't the truth. It's her way to pay them back for what she would call 'snooping around' in people's personal lives just to get a scoop.

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Why does the town believe Grandma Dowdel's lies about Shotgun Cheatham in A Long Way from Chicago?

Good question! I think there are a number of possibilities. Grandma Dowdel commands respect. She also intrigues people. When the body is laid out in the front room, people can't help but be curious and want to investigate. The reporter's presence lends some credibility to Grandma's story. Townsfolk like Mrs. L.J. Weidenbach, the banker’s wife, are also interested in being part of the action; they want to have some connection to the famous war hero.  Mrs. Wilcox probably needs to sit with the body through the night so that she has another gossipy story to add to her repertoire. It’s likely that different townsfolk have different reasons for playing along with the story.

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