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|2||One Christmas at Shiloh||21|
|3||The mission of Mr. Scatters||29|
|4||A matter of doctrine||45|
|5||Old Abe's conversion||53|
1. What is the importance of gossip as a cultural practice for communities in The Heart of Happy Hollow? In what ways is gossip detrimental to the communities presented in the collection? How is it beneficial?
2. In “The Scapegoat,” when Mr. Asbury is visibly involved in politics, he faces treachery and persecution. It is only when he publicly disavows politics that he gains untouchable, unthreatened power. What might the author be suggesting about the nature of political “power”? Is Asbury’s strategy–to secretly manipulate the political power structure, while outwardly disavowing politics–a legitimate, viable political stance? Or must one be vocal and visible to be political? Is the quiet but powerful Asbury victorious by the end of “The Scapegoat”?
3. As he stands trial for thievery in “The Mission of Mr. Scatters,” the title character tries to cast some blame on the community of Miltonville. In his extremely eloquent (and equally deceptive) defense speech, he charges the entire town with its own share of wrongdoing. Though Scatters is the only person on trial, what wrongs have been committed by Isaac Jackson? Martha Jackson? The townspeople? In what ways does the author place these individuals on trial? Why are they, too, guilty?
4. In many of the stories, including “A Matter of Doctrine,” the “truth” is something to be ornamented, to be embellished, to be remolded to suit the situation–almost like a song in the mouth of a gifted singer, or a piece of clothing draped upon a stylish young woman. Discuss three instances of embellished truth in The Heart of Happy Hollow. What separates these embellished truths from outright lies? Is there even a difference? How do individuals justify these embellished truths and how do they distinguish them from lies?
5. In “Old Abe’s Conversion,” the author describes two versions of religion: Abram Dixon’s version of religion, which is based on inciting emotion and creating spectacle; and Robert Dixon’s, which is based on quietly invoking reason. Does the author endorse one over the other?
6. Why do you think Dunbar constructs “The Race Question” as a monologue rather than a narrative? What is the effect? Do you think it would be more or less effective as a narrative?
7. Dunbar depicts several patriarchal black men, among them Reverend Dixon in “Old Abe’s Conversion” and Jeremiah Anderson in “The Wisdom of Silence.” And yet, these men are often enlightened by the wills and insights of women and children. Do you think Dunbar is critiquing patriarchy? Why or why not?
8. In stories like “The Triumph of Ol’ Mis’ Pease” and “Cahoots,” individuals are assigned names or titles that reflect their experiences and which seem to determine their lives. Why is the act of naming so important, so decisive, in The Heart of Happy Hollow? As many of the people who populate these stories are former slaves, what special historical significance might naming hold?
9. Considering that James Buford fails to steal the old widow’s money in “The Promoter,” who do you think will receive the pension after all? If it does go to “white folks”–in a power structure where whites actively and systematically disenfranchise black people–is the situation really any better than it would have been with the money in the hands of Buford? Is justice truly served?
10. In trying to convince Aunt Dicey to side with him, Buford declares: “we col’red people has got to stan’ together.” Instead, Dicey turns him in to the deputy, and lives contentedly thereafter in the home of a white lawyer, whom she happily serves. How much is this a story about racial allegiance or nonallegiance? Are Buford’s words simply the last-minute plea of a desperate man, or do they have some deeper resonance?
11. In “The Wisdom of Silence,” Jeremiah Anderson’s pride enables him to boldly leave his former master and achieve exceptional success and independence. And yet, it is Jeremiah’s proud boasting that leads envious foes to burn down his property. What role does pride play in empowering and/or endangering the lives of newly emancipated slaves in The Heart of Happy Hollow? Does Dunbar more closely align pride with bravery or with haughtiness?
12. Is it better for Jeremiah Anderson to do business with a patronizing former master or with greedy moneylenders? Is Samuel Brabant presented as the good and right alternative to the lenders, or simply the lesser of two evils?
13. What is the effect of formal education upon the community members in The Heart of Happy Hollow? How does formal education positively or negatively transform members of these communities? Does Dunbar seem to have a consistent stance on the advantage or disadvantage of formal education? Is he ambivalent?
14. What is the effect of the use of vernacular language, as it is phonetically transcribed, throughout The Heart of Happy Hollow? Does it lend “authenticity” to the text? Is it jarring? Do you think the author is successful in his use of vernacular language, especially as it contrasts with his own narrative voice?
15. A debate concerning the social obligation of the African-American artist raged during the Harlem Renaissance and beyond. Some believed that black artists bore an obligation to portray black people in a positive and flattering way that would uplift the race–particularly in the eyes and opinions of whites. Though Dunbar predates the Renaissance, do you believe he is somehow motivated or inhibited by a desire to impress white readers? Does he seek to inflame them? Or is he concerned with white readers at all? Who do you believe is the intended audience, if any, for this collection? And finally, where do you stand in the debate?