Here are some suggestions to get you
The Birdwells have an admirable
marriage that grants them the ability to disagree and
accommodates their dynamic personalities. How do they
compare to contemporary couples you know of?
Which of your notions about
Quaker beliefs and cultures were dispelled by The Friendly
A good way to
start a discussion is to read the
contents list of the book and take it in turns to say a
words about what happens in each story.
Do you consider the way of life
depicted in the novel – with its emphasis on nature and
neighborliness – to be a thing of the past?
The novel opens with the tale
of Jess surreptitiously purchasing an organ. How does it set
the stage for subsequent chapters? What does that episode
indicate about Eliza’s role as a minister?
When Josh and Labe attempt to
perform a shivaree for Old Alf, what do they discover about
the world outside their home? What does the reader discover
about the community portrayed in the novel?
Eliza’s courtroom performance
on behalf of the pacing goose is both entertaining and
tender. How do you suppose she is able to provide such
careful attention to livestock, considering her many other
duties to family, home, and congregation?
The arrival of Confederate
troops poignantly depicts the Quaker stance on abolition and
pacifism. Discuss the family’s reaction to Josh, who is
determined to fight. What current events could that chapter
shed light on?
What is the true legacy of the
Why is Eliza in favor of
exchanging Red Rover? Does Mrs. Hudspeth get a fair deal
from Jess? Do the horses’ personalities have any equivalent
meaning in today’s status-driven auto industry?
Millspaugh’s gift of eggs leads to many more
encounters with the Birdwells,
leading them to discuss his
eccentricities at length. The Birdwells see themselves as
essentially free of eccentricity; would you agree with them?
Is there a Lafe Millspaugh in your community?
11. When Jess believes he is terminally ill,
do you attribute that belief simply to the lump or have
other factors caused him to begin considering his own
mortality? What is the effect of his happy news at the end
of the chapter?
12. What does Eliza’s decision to finish her
decorative vase indicate about transitions in her marriage?
13. Jessamyn West writes, “Eliza didn’t feel
stuck. She felt at home.” What factors determine whether we
feel trapped or secure?
14. What makes the lyric, “Oh, when I’m gone,
don’t you, don’t you grieve after me” an appropriate closing
line for “The Illumination”?
15. The story of Stephen’s return home is
told primarily through the eyes of Elspeth. What is the
effect of reading this passage from a child’s point of view?
16. The novel concludes with a glimpse of
Jess at eighty years old as he befriends Homer, a young
orphan. Why is Homer’s bittersweet story so suitable for the
QUESTIONS FOR YOUNGER READERS
The Friendly Persuasion
is a collection of short stories. Look at the contents list
and remind yourself of all the stories. Which did you enjoy
the most? Explain your choice. Can you find an example of a
funny story, a sad story, an exciting story and a story with
a moral or lesson in this collection?
Can you list all the things you
think Jessamyn West is interested in? Try to sum up in only
one sentence what all of these stories are about. Why do you
think people are still reading The Friendly Persuasion
all these years after it was published in 1945?
From your reading of The
Friendly Persuasion, what strikes you as the biggest
differences between life in Indiana in the nineteenth
century and life now? Is there anything about the Birdwells’
lives that you find appealing? What was the hardest thing
about living then?
When it says, “Jess had a heart
as soft as pudding,” what does it mean? How else would you
describe him? Do you think that he and Eliza are good
In “Shivaree Before Breakfast,”
what reasons does Old Alf give for his odd behavior? Laban
thinks he’s a really smart grownup. What do you think? How
does this story show the differences between Josh and Laban?
What does Josh imagine he will
have to do in the Home Guard? Can you understand why he
defies his parents to join? What actually happens to Josh?
Mattie’s character is based on
West’s own mother. What do stories like “Lead Her Like a
Pigeon” and “The Buried Leaf” reveal of her personality?
What is so special about Homer
Denham? What do you think it is like for him living with
Amos and Etty Perkins? What do he and Jess have in common?
What do they learn from one another?
Do you like the way Jessamyn
West writes? If you had to write her report card, what would
you say she does best?
SUGGESTED ACTIVITIES FOR ALL
Let the stories of The Friendly Persuasion
inspire you! You could take a series of photographs locally
you feel represent the themes of the stories, or create a
collage to illustrate a particular story or episode.
Jess Birdwell is a keen observer of the
natural environment. Keep a nature journal for a month and
become an expert on local flora and fauna. Make sketches,
press leaves and try to describe your observations as
accurately as you can. Use library books to help in