The following Discussion Questions were developed by MaryAnne Johnson of The Crack Spine Book Club. She has graciously offered to share them with LitLovers. Thank you MaryAnne!
1. We know the setting of Sycamore Row is Clanton, Mississippi, 3 years after Carl Lee Bailey is found innocent in the murder of the two men who have raped his daughter. The year is 1989. If you read or saw the novel/movie, have race relations among the townspeople changed or remain the same in this novel. Examples?
2. Jake Brigance, (Of course, all we can picture is Mathew Mc Conaughy!) young and smart, has gained a great measure of respectability among the townspeople for his defense of Carl Lee. In this novel, what qualities and characteristics does Jake have that make him a memorable and noteworthy character, resident of Clanton, and lawyer? Examples?
3. In Sycamore Row, there are many references to all that Jake and his wife Carla have lost in his defense of Hailey. Do these issues make Jake more heroic or weaker in this novel? How do these issues resolve themselves in this novel?
4. What would be the stylistic purpose for Chapter One to graphically portray the suicide of Seth Hubbard?
5. Seth Hubbard’s character is both dark and light, good yet flawed. What qualities and examples represent the good and the light? What qualities and examples represent a troubled and flawed man?
6. What are the multiple factors that relate to the contesting of the will/estate by Hubbard’s children as well as a battleground for legal discussion? Explain.
7. What is your impression of the character and personality of the black maid, Lettie Lang? What is her past and background as revealed in the early chapters? How does she comport herself at the beginning of the novel, in the presence of Seth’s children, upon hearing of Seth’s will, and concerning her husband?
8. What is Lettie’s true identity as revealed through Charlie Pardue, Boaz Rinds, and the powerful investigative talents of her own daughter Portia?
9. The theme of avarice and greed threads its way through the novel—and most shockingly from those who have no familial rights—the lawyers! Almost 45% of the novel focuses on the scavengers-- lawyers, investigators, and witnesses, who feed on the flesh of money made from this trial. What impressions and examples can you use to support this idea? Is this an accurate portrayal of legal proceedings?
10. What is the personality of the Honorable Judge Atlee? What is your impression of his personal style as well as his conduction of his legal responsibilities? Is he on Jake’s side or is there a darker undercurrent to his nature? How is his power and authority asserted in the final resolution of the case?
11. Suspense builds in the novel regarding Seth’s younger brother Ancil, who is also named in the will. What details are revealed and uncovered concerning Ancil’s background and history? What did Ancil see…and how did this traumatic event alter his personality? What do we learn when he is discovered in a hospital in Juneau, Alaska?
12. What was John Grisham’s literary intent in holding Ancil’s story until the last chapters?
13. Who is Sylvester Rinds and how did he come to own 80 acres of land that was then deeded to Cleon Hubbard by Sylvester Rinds wife? How did the land come to Seth Hubbard?
14. One despicable character in the novel is Lettie’s husband, Simeon Lang. Describe his personality and what role he plays in the tragic events of the novel.
15. There are so many colorful characters in the novel who either directly or indirectly affect the outcome of events such as Portia, Lucien Wilbanks, Harry Lee Rex, Ozzie, Dumas Lee, Wade Lanier, Quince Lundy, Charlie Pardue, Boaz Rinds, etc, etc…….What do these characters add to the novel’s story and uniqueness?
16. What legal regulatory errors occur in the trial (allowed by Judge Atlee) that lead to the real possibility of an appeal and a retrial of the case?
17. Why is the case resolved before an appeal can be requested? How is the case resolved?
18. Are you satisfied with the reason/s Seth Hubbard changed his will and left his estate to Lettie? Or do you find the idea contestable?
19. Sometimes a reader imagines a different resolution of ending to a major bone of contention in a novel. Could John Grisham have created a tighter, more familial connection between Seth and Lettie that would have enhanced the ending and solution of the will?
20. In the tradition of Southern literature, mainly William Faulkner, the novel is based on these multiple characters who weave in and out of the plot like fireflies. John Grisham, like Faulkner, is trying to establish a community of townsfolk to relate to in future novels. Is this literary device effective?
(Questions developed by MaryAnne Johnson of The Crack Spine Book Club. Please feel free to use them online with a link to LitLovers. Thank you.)
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