The Midwife's Apprentice

by Karen Cushman

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Topics for Discussion

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1. Does Alyce have a moral right to take revenge on those who have humiliated her? If so, to what degree? Is it ever right to take personal vengeance in the modern world? If so, in what circumstances and under what conditions?

2. Should Alyce protest the sharp practices, if not outright cheating, of the innkeeper's wife? Should Alyce try to deal honestly with the customers despite the example set by Jennet? Is Jennet's justification of her adulterated trade a good one? Would we today except this explanation for goods or services purchased that were intentionally shorted by the seller?

3. Does the midwife have any moral obligation to help those mothers-to-be who cannot pay her fees? How does her attitude compare to the attitudes of today's health practioners and caregivers? How do modern insurance practices affect the attitudes of doctors and nurses?

4. What are the strengths of modern midwifery? In what areas may it have advantages over traditional obstetrics?

5. Can you judge people by the way they treat animals? Is it possible to treat animals badly and still be a decent person?

6. What determines self-esteem in young people? Rank the factors, qualities, beliefs, and circumstances in the order you feel are most important and defend your choices. This could be done in small groups, with two groups pairing off at a time to debate their conclusions.

7. Would you, faced with Alyce's options at the end of the book, choose her course of action? If not, what would you have done and why?

8. How is cleanliness related to one's sense of self-worth? Discuss Alyce's self-image in the context of both dirtiness and cleanliness. Is there a correlation between her changing self-image and her physical state of cleanliness?

9. How has the personal sense of hygiene changed over the centuries? Which cultures and religions have placed different values on personal hygiene? For what reasons? Do people now feel degraded if they are dirty? If so, is this a rational response, an habituated response, a socialized response, or a combined response?

10. Discuss what can be called the survival skills of the dispossessed. How would one survive in the Middle Ages without home, money, and food? Compare and contrast this with how one would survive in contemporary America without home, money, and food. Was there any "social safety net" at all in the Middle Ages? Given the above scenarios, compare and contrast the effects they would have on states of mind, senses of self-worth, and psychological stabilities.

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