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Suggested Essay Topics

Chapter 1
1. Discuss the way different characters are named. Are some names more valid than others? Why or why not?

2. Show the conflict of nature vs. society in the characters Pilate and Macon. How do their homes, possessions, and behavior reflect this conflict?

Chapter 2
1. Discuss “food and animal imagery” in Pilate’s house. Consider the five senses, especially sight and smell, to describe the atmosphere of the household.

2. Why is Milkman drawn to Pilate’s house? What do he and Guitar observe? What does Milkman say and do differently than when he is in his own house?

Chapter 3
1. Describe Dr. Foster. Consider the evidence and use it to indict him as a snob and a racist.

2. Discuss the difficulties Milkman has growing up. Explain the symbolism of his “limp.” Describe what he sees in the mirror, and how family “truths” skew Milkman’s whole sense of identity. Discuss his relationship with the members of his family. How do these relationships impact his sense of self?

Chapter 4
1. Discuss why Milkman is no longer interested in Hagar. Explain what attracted him to her in the first place and what has changed. Why does Hagar’s accessibility make her less attractive?

2. List the different crimes mentioned in the chapter. Determine if all of them are real or if some are fictitious. What is the impact of interweaving history with fiction?

Chapter 5
1. Discuss the things in Ruth’s cloistered world that makes her life bearable. Why do these things comfort Ruth?

2. Discuss Pilate’s association with magic in the chapter. Cite all the magical aids she uses to achieve her ends. Is her magic always benevolent magic?

Chapter 6
1. Discuss Guitar’s criticism of white people. Why do you think his views are so extreme? Does the novel or your own experience suggest that any of his views are justified? Give reasons why or why not.

2. Discuss Milkman’s condemnation of Guitar’s organization, the Seven Days. What important points does Milkman make? Is he able to influence Guitar’s thinking? What additional arguments could Milkman have brought up to oppose Guitar’s views?

Chapter 7
1. Discuss the role of nature in Macon and Pilate’s lives as children. Refer to specific descriptions of nature in the chapter. Show how nature is perceived as benevolent and as sinister by the children. Explain the discrepancy.

2. Discuss how Macon changes in the presence of the gold. Give specific examples.

Chapter 8
1. Compare and contrast Guitar’s and Milkman’s attitudes as they discuss stealing the gold. How are their words, thoughts, and actions different? Why does Guitar say Milkman is “defeatist” about the gold? Why does Milkman call it “common sense”?

2. Discuss why milkman’s adolescent adventures, when he and Guitar “terrorized” the neighborhood and instilled fear in everyone, remain so important to Milkman. Give examples of some of their adventures and their symbolic meaning for Milkman.

Chapter 9
1. Discuss the narrator’s opinion of a “liberal education.” Consider the advantages to this type of education and make an argument in its favor. Then contrast these to the disadvantages. Explain the differences between different types of education. For example, compare a liberal arts’ education to a vocational education or to the type of “real-life” experience education Pilate has had.

2. Consider the conflict between appearance and reality in the character Corinthians. Describe it by her physical appearance and her actions. Does Corinthians ultimately make a choice between appearance and reality? What are her reasons for her choice and how does this choice change her life?

Chapter 10
1. Discuss images of aging and decay in Chapter 10. Cite examples of both plant life, human life, and inanimate life in your essay. Discuss the relationship between the three forms of life.

2. Discuss why the death of Macon Dead I was “the beginning of (the Danville men’s) own dying.” What did he symbolize for the men? What were his accomplishments?...

(The entire section is 1,141 words.)