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Heretic's Daughter (Kent) - Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions 
1. How was Sarah Carrier changed by the time she spent living with the family of her cousin Margaret? How was Sarah affected by the return to her own family?

2. At one point Sarah says, "Mother had an unsettling ability to foretell the weather" (page 91). Do you believe that Martha Carrier possessed special powers of any sort? What was it about Martha’s character that seemed to antagonize so many neighbors?

3. In what ways did Martha and Sarah have a typical mother-daughter relationship? If there are aspects of their relationship that you found exceptional, can you attribute those exceptions to the particular time and circumstances in which the Carriers lived? Consider Sarah’s statement: "Perhaps it was true that I was like my mother, as everyone seemed to think so" (page 142).

4. Identify and discuss some of the factors that contributed to the witch hysteria in seventeenth- century New England.

5. Discuss Mercy Williams’s role in the tragedy that befalls the Carrier family. What motivates Mercy?

6. Discuss the signifi cance of Martha Carrier’s big red leatherbound book. Why does she ask Sarah to "keep this one thing a secret, even among your brothers" (page 150)? And why does Martha make Sarah promise not to try to read the book until she comes of age (page 178)?

7. Why did Martha choose to take a stand of innocence, knowing that a refusal to confess meant death?

8. Why did Thomas, despite his size and capabilities, not seek to persuade or deter Martha from her course of action?

9. Discuss the assault on Sarah in the burying ground near the meetinghouse (pages 121–125). To what extent does the incident seem a typical case of adolescent bullying? Have you, or has anyoneyou know, had a similar experience? Put yourself in Sarah’s shoes; how would you have responded to the girls’ taunting?

10. Why do you think the magistrates, and the wider community of Salem, so easily believed in and relied on "spectral evidence"?

11. Has reading The Heretic’s Daughter in any way changed your opinion of the men and women who were hanged as witches in seventeenth- century New England?

12. Do you believe in witchcraft? Have you ever met anyone who claimed to be, or whom you perceived as, a witch?

13. If you have read or seen Arthur Miller’s 1953 play The Crucible, discuss the ways that both that play and The Heretic’s Daughter draw from the historical record to tell fresh and relevant stories. In what ways are the two works similar? How are they different?

14. Are you aware of any social intolerance in the community in which you live? If so, discuss the nature of that intolerance (for example, religious, ethnic, xenophobic). Do you think this intolerance could ever rise to the toxic level of the Salem witch hunts? Why or why not?

15. Are there any notable or notorious ancestors in your family tree? If so, do you remember your relatives telling stories about them when you were young? If you’ve researched your ancestry, discuss what you’ve learned about your family and yourself.
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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