Rifles for Watie

by Harold Keith

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1. Throughout the novel, Jeff demonstrates a knack for dealing with animals. He has easily trained Ring, and he quickly wins the friendship of Dixie, Sully, and even General Blunt's supposedly vicious bulldog. Likewise, he knows how to manage the various horses, oxen, and cows he encounters. What does this talent reveal about Jeff's character? How does Keith's description of this talent prepare the reader for the resolution of the novel's crisis?

2. What kind of man is Captain Asa Clardy? How does Keith reveal the extent of his evil character? What combination of events and background facts make Jeff his enemy? Is Jeff in any way responsible for the hostility that results?

3. When Jeff joins the Union Army, he is accompanied by two friends, John Chadwick and David Gardner. In the army, he meets a number of other young recruits, some of whom are killed or seriously wounded. These young men have enlisted for a variety of reasons, and they react differently to army life and war experiences. Why does Keith include the contrasting attitudes, experiences, and reactions of Jeff's friends?

4. Jeff himself changes during the four years of the Civil War. When he enlists, what is his attitude toward war? How does it change after his first battle? What similar changes occur in his opinions about army officers, the Union and Confederate philosophies, and the people he initially considers his allies and enemies?

5. Wherever he goes, Jeff finds older, more experienced soldiers who befriend him, such as Mike Dempsey, Noah Babbitt, and Heifer Hobbs; young friends to share his adventures and complaints, including Bill Earle, Jim Bostwick, and Hooley Pogue; and suspicious enemies who are eager to catch him in a mistake, especially Sergeant Sam Fields and Captain Asa Clardy. What do their reactions reveal about Jeff's character and about human nature in general?

6. Although Jeff treats almost everyone with consideration, he shows special courtesy to the women he meets: Mrs. McComas, the women of the Jackman and Washbourne families, and Belle Lisenbee. What does Keith accomplish by making Jeff such a stereotypical, old-fashioned gentleman?

7. At the Jackmans' home, Jeff discovers that the family library consists of G.P.R. James's History of Chivalry, two Sir Walter Scott novels, William Gilmore Simms's Guy Rivers and The Yemassee, and an old copy of Harper's Weekly. What does this selection of reading material, fairly typical of ante-bellum Southern families, reveal about the values and attitudes of the Jackmans and their fellow Confederates?

8. Jeff Bussey finds his given name, Jefferson Davis, both an asset and a disadvantage. How does it work for and against him? Jeff explains why his father, a dedicated Union man, named him for the president of the Confederacy. How does Jeff's name influence his character development? How does it reveal one of Keith's basic themes?

9. Noah Babbitt, an actual historical figure, is one of the most carefully described minor characters in the novel. Jeff discovers that this itinerant printer hiked from Topeka, Kansas, to Galveston, Texas, just to see the magnolias in bloom. How does Noah influence Jeff's attitudes? Why does Keith describe him in such detail?

10. Generally, critics praise Keith for portraying war with unusual realism. What episodes develop this realism? Aside from Jeff's romance with Lucy Washbourne, are there any romantic elements in this novel? What are they?

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