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In Hushpuckashaw County in the 1940s, many things are desperately unfair. Letitia Johnson, a young black mother and the nanny for one of the town’s most distinguished couples, knows this only too well when the couple’s ...
In Hushpuckashaw County in the 1940s, many things are desperately unfair. Letitia Johnson, a young black mother and the nanny for one of the town’s most distinguished couples, knows this only too well when the couple’s baby is found drowned in its bath. Accused by the grieving family and the enraged townspeople, Letitia quickly sends her twelve-year-old daughter, Sally, out to hide in the brush before she is taken into custody. The angry mob would get revenge when they drag Letitia from her jail cell and hang her that very night. But they wouldn’t get Sally.
Baby Allen, a courageous social worker, is assigned to Sally’s case, and gradually coaxes the young girl out of hiding, wins her trust, and secures her protection. But once Sally is safe, Baby is left with the greater mission of uncovering the truth about who is responsible for the infant’s death—a shocking revelation that will change the ways and attitudes of a town that has been long in need of changing.
Beautiful and gripping, Cotton Song is the story of a woman’s fight to save the child left behind after the horrific lynching that took her mother’s life.
From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Cotton Song by Tom Bailey Copyright © 2006 by Tom Bailey. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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1) Discuss the recurring appearance of the red fox at Letitia’s house. Why is the fox associated with this location? Why does the author include such gory details of this same fox collecting the remains of Baby’s unborn child?
2) What do you think of Sissy Rule Tisdale? Is she a sympathetic character? Why do you think the rest of the Rule family seems so absent from her life?
3) What do you think really happened the night Dorothy Tisdale died?
4) Discuss Boss Chief’s philosophy of right and wrong. Whose rules does he follow? How does he see his role as head of Parchman Farm? What factors influenced his chosen path?
5) What, if anything, is the significance of the song lyrics throughout the book? Did you find them meaningful?
6) Discuss the contrast between Alley Leech, whose crimes and general behavior define a villainous man, and Bigger, of whom we hear reports only of kindness and nobility. Why does the author contrast these two characters so vividly? Do you think his point is overstated? How do these extremes of character serve the story?
7) Everything we know of Jake and Jolene’s relationship indicates that his careless and sometimes neglectful attitude toward her and her wishes is habitual. Why does she put up with it?
8) Boss Chief says of his late wife, “I might even’ve been a different man with her at my side.” What kind of man might he have been? What sort of regrets, if any, do you think this statement implies?
9) Do you think Jake would have made a good boss chief? Did he have what it would take to reform the prison?
10) Discuss the different ways sex is discussed in the book–from the adolescent excitement of Jake and Sissy, to the matter-of-fact romps of Boss Chief and his secretary, to the “magic” between Bigger and Letitia, to the violence between Clyde and Sissy, and even the “unspeakable acts” between Alley and his son. What role does sex play in the telling of the story? How important is it in defining relationships in the book?
11) In reliving her daughter’s drowning and its aftermath, Sissy wishes she had taken time to tell Letitia, “You have been a comfort to me.” Do you think this would have been as important to Letitia as Sissy seems to think it would? What does it say about Sissy that this is the primary regret she expresses in her recollections?
12) Do you think that Clyde Tisdale is inherently a bad man? What factors might motivate his behavior toward Sissy?
13) Most of the adults in the book seem to have chosen their paths, but the children–Jeana, Jakey, young Robert Tisdale–still have their lives before them. What do you think each will make of the events of the story? How might the events of the book alter their fates, if at all?
14) Discuss Calvin McGales’ motivation in leading the Klan. What drives him? Does his role and behavior in the KKK bear any similarity to the way he carries out his bootlegging business? Why do you think he was chosen as a leader above other Klansmen? What qualities of his make him a desirable candidate for the Klan’s membership and mission?
15) Although Clyde Tisdale defines the Klan as the greatest danger, his foil to the Klan’s rule is a “civic trinity” of himself, Sheriff Dodd, and Dr. Jenks. Is this ruling class any better for Ruleton? Do you think Clyde honestly thinks it is? Does he even consider the welfare of Ruleton? Does anyone?
Posted May 30, 2011
Posted August 1, 2009
I found the characters interesting. I was happy that the good guys were mannerly, nicely dressed and well spoken. The bad guys were easily recognized as they were mean, foul mouthed, and thoroughly detestable. The story was, I feel, very true to the times, and I feel quite certain that this was truly the Mississippi of the early '40's. I was completely involved in the story and really enjoyed the book.
When you have finished reading this book you may want to try another by Tom Bailey. I read The Grace That Saves This World about a year ago and found it to be another that could not be put down.