Suggested Essay Topics
1. What does the reader know about the narrator solely on the basis of the Prologue? Take this opportunity to play detective, and explain both what he reveals about himself explicitly and what inferences can be drawn, justifying your findings as you go along.
2. Focus on the fantasy section of the Prologue. What’s going on there? The narrator imagines a series of scenes beginning with a sermon. What themes does it reveal?
1. Why might the adults present at grandfather’s deathbed have reacted the way that they did? If it’s true that the grandfather may have been crazy, what other possibilities exist?
2. Why would the audience listening to the narrator’s speech have reacted so strongly to the narrator’s mistake? Discuss the implications of his slip of the tongue.
1. Examine the details the narrator gives about the college at the start of the chapter. What kind of picture is evoked? What do we know about that part of the narrator’s life?
2. Notice how the narrator is determined to show Mr. Norton something he’d never seen before. Follow the progression of statements, thoughts, and decisions bringing Mr. Norton and Jim Trueblood together.
1. We are told that the men who visit the Golden Day are “shell-shocked,” which means that they are suffering from permanent stress from wartime battles. What other reasons might they have for being there?
2. The prolonged scene of chaos that unfolds inside the Golden Day is comparable with the descriptions of the battle royal. What are the differences? Look at the relationships between the people involved. What different purposes does the violence serve?
1. Write a character sketch of Dr. Bledsoe based on the information in this chapter. What does the reader know about him? What inferences can be drawn from this knowledge? Be sure to support your observations.
2. Summarize the narrator’s “crimes,” as Dr. Bledsoe might call them. Explain how they happened, and whether or not the narrator could have avoided them. Who is right in this situation?
1. The Founder is an important figure in the sermon. Does Reverend Barbee disclose the race of the Founder? By what information can the reader divine whether the Founder was black or white? What difference would this have made?
2. At the end of the chapter, the narrator feels that the sermon is not likely to make Dr. Bledsoe soft-hearted when considering the narrator’s situation. Why does the narrator feel this way? How might Dr. Bledsoe’s mood be influenced by the sermon? What about the sermon would create this mood?
1. Consider Dr. Bledsoe’s way of looking at race relations. He tells the narrator that it didn’t matter what Mr. Norton wanted to see or do; the narrator was in charge. Bledsoe also says that he thought that the narrator had more sense and was not such a fool. What were Dr. Bledsoe’s expectations of the narrator? How does he suggest that the narrator could have lied? How did the narrator fail to meet those expectations?
2. At one point in their talk, Dr. Bledsoe says that Mr. Norton could have made the narrator’s fortune. What does this mean and imply? Consider the relative positions of the narrator and Mr. Norton, and the fact that the narrator thinks about the possibility of getting something from Mr. Norton at the beginning of Chapter Two. What would the narrator have had to do in order to get something from Mr. Norton, and why was he unable to do it?
1. It is important to remember what Dr. Bledsoe said about the Vet (hint: look about five pages into Chapter Six). Is it a coincidence that the Vet is going up to St. Elizabeth’s? Why would someone like Dr. Bledsoe want the vet to be sent away?
2. Describe the narrator’s impressions of both New York City and Harlem. What is different about his new surroundings, and what changes will they most likely lead to in the narrator’s life?
1. Summarize the narrator’s fears. Are they reasonable, given what you have read in the novel? If the fears center on Dr. Bledsoe and Mr. Norton, are there grounds for the narrator to be concerned? If the fears are based on other feelings, is there evidence behind them?
2. In this chapter and the one before it, the narrator saw black people with jobs unlike those that blacks had in the South. Pick three examples and describe them. What responsibilities do these jobs involve? What does it imply to say that blacks can and do hold them?
1. The narrator’s conversation with Emerson’s son has many twists and turns. What happens that complicates the discussion they have? Is it clear that Emerson’s son wishes to help the narrator? Why or why not?
2. The narrator thinks very deeply about a song he heard on the subway after leaving Emerson’s office. What is the significance of the song, both in the chapter and in the novel thus far? Discuss how the story in the song applies to the narrator’s life, especially to what Bledsoe has done to him.
1. A wide variety of people interact with the narrator at the paint factory. How do...
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