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Book Review

The Well by Mildred Taylor has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is part of the “Logan Family Saga” series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Ten-year-old David Logan lives in Mississippi in the early 1900s. Slavery has been abolished, but prejudice remains. The Logans have heard stories about blacks being hanged by whites for the smallest offenses.

All the wells in the area are dry that year except for the Logans’. Mama and Papa believe they should share the water God has provided, so they allow their neighbors to draw from the well. Many of their white neighbors appreciate their generosity, but Old Man Simms and his sons are anything but grateful. They use the well but still call the Logans the n-word. Brothers Charlie and Ed-Rose belittle and harass David and his 13-year-old brother, Hammer.

Papa and other older male family members are gone for long stretches, lumbering along the Natchez Trace. Mama looks after the farm, the boys and their aging, addled grandmother, Ma Rachel. One day, Hammer and David see Charlie trying to remove his wagon from a ditch. He orders them to help him.

Hammer refuses, indignant about the way the Simms family treats his family. David, who is on a crutch because of an injury, tries to hold up the wagon but isn’t strong enough. He drops the wagon, sending Charlie to the ground. Charlie backhands David, and Hammer rushes to defend his brother. Hammer hits Charlie repeatedly, so hard that Charlie stops moving. The boys run home, fearing Charlie is dead. Mama makes Hammer hide.

The Logans soon learn Charlie isn’t dead, but the sheriff comes to ask questions. Mama tells him Hammer and David’s side of the story and sends her famous molasses bread home with him to gain his favor. Before he leaves, Old Man Simms and his boys arrive. Simms demands Mama give her boys a beating on the spot. Mama has no choice but to comply, and David and Hammer refuse to shed tears. Simms also demands the boys do some work on his property for a while.

Ma Rachel is upset anytime white people come to their land. She recalls the days of slavery and remembers seeing her mother whipped. Charlie and Ed-Rose harass the boys while they work on the Simms family’s property. They make Hammer carry a sack containing a skunk. Hammer releases the skunk, and it sprays the Simms boys. Charlie, Ed-Rose and their friend give Hammer a beating later.

Papa returns briefly from logging and tries to advise the boys about handling situations like this. He urges them to use their heads rather than fighting with their fists. Papa was the son of a slave and her white master, so he has struggled with racial injustice in a unique way all his life.

Hammer knocks Charlie down again when the two are alone. A few days later, the Logans discover a horrible stench coming from their well. Neighbors, including the Simms family, come over for water and learn the well has been poisoned. Hammer and David can’t convince everyone that Charlie and Ed-Rose are to blame.

Then a low-functioning neighbor named Jim passes by and mentions he saw the Simms boys hunting yesterday. He saw they had bagged several smaller animals like a racoon and a skunk. Mr. Simms realizes his boys are to blame and whips them in front of everyone.

He makes them go into the well and retrieve the cut-up animal carcasses. The tainted well is no longer useful to anyone that year, but the Logans receive some small measure of justice. In future years, the Logans’ well often survives when other wells don’t. They continue to share their water freely with the neighbors, but the Simms family never returns to the Logans’ land again.

Christian Beliefs

Mama shares the well with neighbors because God gave them the water. Even white people, like the sheriff, acknowledge the Logans are doing a Christian thing. Papa has a praying rock where he prays every day that he’s home.

When Mama learns Charlie isn’t dead, she says the Lord stepped in and gave Charlie his breath back. This saved Hammer from being hanged for murder. After the water is poisoned, Mama says the Lord giveth and taketh away. Hammer argues the Lord had nothing to do with it, but it was the Simms’ fault.

Other Belief Systems


Authority Roles

David’s parents believe in sharing, and they try to teach their kids to do the same. They share the well because they consider it a blessing from God. Papa offers sage advice to the boys about staying out of trouble in a racially charged society. Ma Rachel distrusts white people and thinks Mama shares the family resources too freely. Old Man Simms sets an example of superiority and prejudice toward black people that his sons adopt.


The Lord’s name is used in vain. The n-word also appears frequently. Hammer says “son of a …” but stops himself before the last word.

Ma Rachel recalls her mother’s mistress tying her mother to a post and whipping her. The mistress wanted to use the name Rachel for her own baby. She demanded the slave change the name of her baby, but Ma Rachel’s mother refused.

Papa recalls his daddy whipping him for hitting his white half-brother, even though the boy had hit him first. The Simms boys and a friend beat up Hammer. Simms whips his sons after he discovers they’ve lied and poisoned the well.


Papa says he is the son of a slave woman and her master. The master had a white wife and family but frequently visited his black mistress and her children.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Prejudice: Black people are still treated as second-class citizens. The Logans have heard about many blacks being hanged for angering white people. Simms and his boys frequently use the n-word when addressing the Logans, and they expect the Logans to treat them as superiors. Other white people, like the sheriff and neighbors, are more accepting of the Logans but still make it clear that blacks and whites are in different social categories.

Lying: David lies to his grandmother to calm her down when the Simms come over. The Simms boys often lie to their father and others to avoid punishment or to get the Logan boys in trouble.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

10 and up


Mildred Taylor






Record Label



Dial Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin USA


On Video

Year Published





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