The Gift of Sarah Barker Ideas for Reports and Papers
by Jane Yolen

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Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

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1. Research the life of Ann Lee in greater detail than Yolen provides in her historical note. How did Lee gain her following? How extensive a movement was the group she founded? What other Shakers held leading roles?

2. Consider the Shaker songs, chants, and sayings that appear in the novel. Based upon these, what virtues or values did the Shakers exalt? Did they actually practice them? Do any have value for today's world?

3. Is the novel best classified as a romance? As a coming-of-age story? As fictionalized religious or social history? Explain.

4. Does Sarah change in the course of the novel? Include comments about Sarah's reactions to the Mountain Eve and Feast at the ages of six and fourteen (Chapter 20), and to the shouts of "woe" when she hears "for the first time, the silence that she carried within" (end, Chapter 22).

5. Explore Abel's relationship with Sarah, which develops in just two weeks' time. Does it spring from real love or from the "spring jimjams" on Abel's part? How much is it the result of circumstances in the Shaker community?

6. Explore the characters of Sister Agatha and Father James. Are they rounded? One-dimensional? Overdrawn? What character traits, if any, do the two share? Is Father James right to believe that Sister Agatha represents the "madness of the world" (Chapter 22), or is there more to her character, perhaps a sympathetic side?

7. What, if anything, is accomplished toward "union" at the meeting guided by Sister Martha and Brother Frank (Chapter 15)? Does the talk have a helpful effect on any one of the various participants? Does the meeting confirm in any way Sarah and Abel's complaint that the Shakers "hear, but they do not listen?"

8. Shaker designed furniture and other artifacts have been fashionable in recent decades. Research and report on the type of furniture the Shakers produced.