DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: THE ABOLITIONIST’S DAUGHTER
Suggested Questions for Discussion:
- How familiar are you with instances of opposition to slavery in the South? Were you surprised to learn about Southern abolitionism? Do you know any stories of other areas of resistance to slavery in the South? How do you understand the underlying foundations of such opposition?
- Were you aware that by the 1820s, manumission—freeing slaves—had become nearly impossible and ultimately illegal? What are your thoughts on the moral dilemma of a man opposed to slavery being himself a slave owner? What other options could he have considered? What might the repercussions have been to those options? How do you view the route Judge Matthews chose?
- We often think of the “frontier” as the expansion out into the West of the United States. Were you surprised at the idea that Mississippi was, indeed, considered “frontier” in the early to mid-1800s? Since this novel is based on actual history, how does life in Greensboro fit with your concepts of the frontier? How do you see the qualities that motivated people to move toward the frontier in the town of Greensboro?
- As legends often do, the story of the Greensboro “feud” in reality has taken on a dual tone of “good guys/bad guys,” based solely on the motivation of land greed. Yet these families had enough in common that two siblings from each family married siblings from the other. What are your thoughts on the relationship of these two families? What were your initial ideas on reading of the murder and mob lynching?
- We all have certain unconscious assumptions based on our cultural backgrounds. Where and how do you see such assumptions playing out among the characters in the novel? Did you find yourself affected by your own assumptions as you read?
- Today we are all familiar with the concept of PTSD, especially in military conflict. The novel examines numerous traumas of a non-military nature and the long-range effects on various characters. How do you see this playing out in the book? Were you surprised to learn that those effects can be lifelong? What about the effect of repeated trauma? How do you see the courage of various characters to overcome their trauma?
- The Civil War marked the beginning of a major shift in the role of women in the United States, leading to the suffragist movement around the turn of the 20th century. What factors do you see contributing to that shift? How do you see the shift in Emily as a woman as a parallel to this historic shift for women in general? How do you perceive Emily (for example, strong, weak, changeable, likable, unlikable, realistic, idealized, simple, or complex)? What qualities in her did you relate to personally?
- Which of the masculine characters did you identify with? What qualities appealed to you? Frustrated you? Which did you admire or find courageous?
- Were you surprised by ambiguities and conflicts in various characters? Did you identify with any of them? Where did you find qualities to admire?
- In general, which characters or scenes might have made you think about your own prejudgments? Were you surprised? Has that changed your thinking on any issues or on the tendency we all have toward premature judgment of others without knowing their full story?