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Gods in Alabama (Jackson) - Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions
1. Who or what are the gods that the title refers to? Who are the gods in your hometown, workplace, or culture?

2. Arlene finds an imperfect but workable way to live around her family's deeply ingrained racism while maintaining the two most important relationships in her life. How satisfying is this compromise? Is it fair to Burr? To Florence? Should Arlene have asked for and expected more?

3. In what ways does Arlene's "deal with God" allow her to protect herself? How much of it is true penance and how much is a defense mechanism?

4. Arlene has painted a picture of Clarice as beautiful, pure, passive, and wholesome. How does idealizing Clarice influence Arlene's own behavior and sexuality?

5. Arlene's biological mother is almost a non-person in the book, and Arlene has surrounded herself with replacement mothers. Who are these replacements, and what aspects of mothering does she get from each of them?

6. The women in this novel generally tend to overpower the men, whether in conversation, romance, or physical altercations. Is this indicative of Southern society in general? What point might the author be making about gender relations in an outwardly traditional society?

7. The main character in this book is alternately known as Arlene and Lena. What are the distinguishing characteristics of Arlene? Of Lena? How do you think she would identify herself? By the end of the book, had she changed in your mind from one to the other, or had the two been integrated?

8. Arlene has clearly rehearsed a confession for years and years. How do you think her commitment to this retelling of the events of the past has shaped her current course of action?

9. Who is Jim Beverly? How do you reconcile the "pure-hearted, sole good man" Rose Mae Lolley has ever known with the scoundrel on Lipsmack Hill that fateful night?

10 What role does the Southern locale play in the novel? Could such a story take place in another region? Why or why not?

11. Forgiveness and atonement are two of the major themes in this novel. Who do you believe has done the most genuine atoning in this story? Who has the biggest sin to forgive?

12. Arlene baldly states that she is a game player, and she plays both literal and metaphorical games with Burr and the other characters throughout the novel. She is also, on some level, playing a game with the reader. How did you react to this? Do you think she played "fair"?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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