A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl's Journal, 1830-32

by Joan Winsor Blos

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1. How did New Englanders in the 1830s celebrate holidays such as Christmas, New Year's, Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July, and birthdays? How did they observe Sundays? Compare these customs to today's observances.

2. Compile a list of the maxims and sayings quoted throughout the book. What are the original sources of these sayings? What are the basic attitudes toward life that they represent? Why was it such a common practice to copy and memorize such sayings?

3. What are some of the ways the characters in the novel view death? How do their attempts to cope with death differ? Discuss some of the customs, beliefs, and superstitions about death that were common in nineteenth-century New England.

4. Research Nat Turner and the 1831 uprising of slaves that he led. What were some of the factors that caused the uprising, and what were the results? What was the public opinion concerning the insurrection?

5. How do the different characters in the story try to determine what is right and what is wrong? What is the relationship between morality, honesty, responsibility, and kindness?

6. How are quilts a major symbol in A Gathering of Days? What role do quilts have in Catherine's life, particularly in relationship to her mother, her father, her stepmother, the runaway slave, and her friend Cassie? What is the significance of the pattern she chooses for her new quilt?

7. How do Cassie, Mammann, Father, and Catherine each look at the meaning of spring? What does the mural in the Shipman home say about spring? What significance does the concept of seasons give to the overall theme of the novel?

8. The novel's closing paragraph refers to a spindled maple chair made by Catherine's father. How is this chair significant to the meaning of the story, and what role does it play for the various characters, such as father, Matty, Ann, Catherine, and the great-granddaughter? What does it symbolize about the meaning of life?

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