Book Review: ‘The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap’ by Paulette Mahurin

This is a really thought-provoking story about the consequences of prejudice, hatred and gossip in the lives of those who suffer the judgement and contempt of others. It is well-written and easy to read, although the nature of the story is both serious and discomforting. 

Set in 1895 in a small rural community in Nevada, ’The Persecution of Midlred Dunlap’ is one of those stories that takes a slice of time, brings it to life, and makes one thankful that things have changed since then. On reflection, though, the reader is confronted by the fact that some things haven’t changed that much at all. People still discriminate against and make fun of those who are different, or who live in ways of which they do not approve. We may have laws to deal with those issues now, and legal means of both protection and redress, but those can not actually change human nature or the tendency of some people toward the behaviours that made those laws necessary in the first place.  

Through clever crafting of characters and story, the author demonstrates that there are all sorts of hatred and prejudice that people suffer, ranging between racism, religious persecution, discrimination on the basis of looks, sexuality or lifestyle, to peer pressure and bullying. The treatment of those who are different in various ways by those with the position and power to persecute them is abhorrent, emphasising the narrow-mindedness and hatred that motivates such abuse. The fact that. even though we live 120+ years later, one does not have to travel far or look too hard to see that some things never change, is an indictment that can be neither escaped nor explained away. 

In contrast, Mildred is a character who demonstrates kindness, resilience, thoughtfulness and generosity. Like her, Edra, Charley and Gus are positive characters who stand against the horrid behaviour of their neighbours. Those characters who show kindness, acceptance, and respect bring light and relief to the darker undertones of the story and return balance to the portrait of humanity that is painted in these pages. Through them, the story reminds us that love does indeed drive out both fear and hate, and that a true friend is a gift of immeasurable worth. 

There is so much power and weight in this story, and also much that is hopeful and encouraging. It is a work of historical fiction well worth reading,