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The Land and Other Books

by Mildred D. Taylor

Page 2 of 3

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

Pre-Reading Questions

  1. What family stories have you heard from parents, grandparents, or other relatives? Retell one of the most memorable of these stories and explain why it's memorable.
  2. What were some of the hardships all Americans faced during the Great Depression? What additional hardships did African-Americans in the South face during the same period?
  3. What were "Jim Crow" laws? What was their purpose? Find some examples of how these laws were applied. If Jim Crow laws applied to you now, how would you react?
  4. What is the difference between a sharecropper and a tenant farmer? Which would be more advantageous to a landowner? What would be some disadvantages to sharecropping and tenant farming?
  5. How important is a unified, supportive family? In what ways would this kind of family benefit the members of such a family? What circumstances work to undermine family unity? Why would a close-knit family be especially important during the Great Depression?

 

Discussion Questions for the Logan Family Saga

  1. What is the history of the Logan land in Taylor's novels? What was Paul-Edward Logan's role in acquiring The Land? Who consistently worked to take The Land from the Logans? What are some things the Logans did to keep their land? To get started, take a look at these pages: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, 6-8; 90-95; 168-170; Let the Circle Be Unbroken, 128-130; The Land, 160-61; 339-360.
  2. In The Land, an old man named Elijah makes a very brief appearance (159-161). What is his role in the story? How might his role be an allusion to the Old Testament prophet Elijah (see Malachi 4: 5-6)? What other Biblical allusions exist in The Land or in other novels of the Logan saga?
  3. Taylor's first novel, Song of the Trees, focuses on a tree-cutting incident; how does that incident reappear in later Logan novels? How does it foreshadow events in the Logan prequels The Well and The Land?
  4. A good example of symbolism in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is David Logan's comparison of the fig tree in their yard to the Logan family (205-206). What other examples of symbolism exist in Roll of Thunder or other Logan stories?
  5. In The Land, the young white boy Wade Jamison befriends African-American Nathan Perry (245), despite the fact that the people and social customs of the area discourage such friendship. This previews the character of Jeremy Simms who, two generations later, will befriend the Logan children. In The Land, how do Mitchell Thomas and Paul-Edward Logan regard the interracial friendship of Wade and Nathan? In later Logan stories, how do adults react to relationships between whites and blacks? Why do they react the way they do?
  6. Because it is a prequel, many characters who appear in The Land reappear or are alluded to in other Logan novels. Some of those are Mr. Tom Bee, John Wallace, Wade Jamison, Caroline Perry, Rachel Perry, Horace Avery, and Paul-Edward Logan. How does Taylor use these characters in her other novels?
  7. Often in the Logan stories, fathers give good advice to their children, and many times that advice relates to "using your head": "You clear your head so you can think sensibly" (Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, 176); "Don't get so smart, Daughter, you don't use your head" (Road to Memphis, 105); "You boys better start learning how to use your heads, not your fists" (The Well, 72); "Then you use what you're strongest at, boy! You use your head" (The Land, 5). In what ways do the various Logan children "use their heads" to solve their problems? What kinds of problems do they get into when they don't "use their heads"?
  8. In her Newbery Award acceptance speech, Taylor said that one of her goals as a writer was to "paint a truer picture of Black people. I wanted to show the endurance of the Black world, with strong fathers and concerned mothers; I wanted to show happy, loved children about whom other children, both Black and White, could say, 'Hey, I really like them! I feel what they feel.' I wanted to show a Black family united in love and pride, of which the reader would like to be a part." With her Logan stories, how effectively has Taylor achieved her goals? In what ways does she show the Logans to be a model family?
  9. Taylor is often praised for her positive portrayal of strong female characters. In addition to Cassie Logan, who are some other strong female characters? How do they demonstrate their strength? Are there any female characters in the Logan stories who are not strong? If so, in what ways are they weak?
  10. After reading all nine of Mildred D. Taylor's Logan novels, make a timeline that accounts for the major characters and events in all the books. Review your timeline and consider these questions: Which characters has Taylor sustained throughout the series? Why has she kept them in the stories? Which characters are restricted to only one book? Why? Do any historical gaps exist? If so, where?

 

Connections to U.S. History

  1. What were the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments? How did they affect the lives of people like Paul-Edward Logan and other characters in the Logan stories?
  2. What did the Civil Rights Act of 1875 establish in the United States? How was that Act affected by the 1896 Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson?
  3. How did sharecropping hinder the economic progress of the recently emancipated slaves? How did sharecropping in the 1930s limit the freedom of people like the Logans' neighbors?
  4. How did the political stances of African-American leaders Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois differ? Which leader would Hammer Logan most likely have agreed with? Which would David Logan have agreed with? Why?
  5. What was the goal of Roosevelt's New Deal? How did its programs – the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA), the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) – affect tenant and share cropping farmers? What did the Southern Tenant Farmers Union attempt to accomplish? How are the New Deal programs portrayed in Let the Circle Be Unbroken?
  6. Who was A. Philip Randolph? What did he have to do with President Roosevelt's Executive Order 8802 in 1941? How did that order lead to the migration of African-Americans from the Southern states to the North?

ABOUT MILDRED D. TAYLOR

Mildred D. Taylor was born in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1943, to Wilbert Lee Taylor and Deletha Marie Davis Taylor. Life in the racially segregated South was difficult and sometimes unpleasant for Wilbert Taylor, so a few weeks after his daughter's birth, he boarded a train bound for Ohio. He hoped to establish a home in the North, where his family would have opportunities that wouldn't be possible in Mississippi. Within a week he had found a factory job in Toledo. Two months after that, when Taylor was three months old, he brought his family to the North. It wasn't long before many members of Taylor's extended family followed her family to Ohio, and for much of her childhood, she was surrounded by aunts, uncles, and cousins. Even though he lived in the North, Taylor's father never stopped loving the South and the family that remained behind in Mississippi. Throughout Taylor's childhood, he regularly took his wife and children to visit them. It was during those visits to Mississippi that Taylor learned about family history and storytelling, both of which would, years later, become essential to her writing career.

The telling of family stories was a regular feature of Taylor family gatherings. Family storytellers told about the struggles that relatives and friends faced in a racist culture – stories that revealed triumph, pride, and tragedy. The stories inspired Taylor, and she still has a vivid recollection of the storytelling sessions:

"I remember my grandparents' house, the house my great-grandfather had built at the turn of the century, and I remember the adults talking about the past. As they talked I began to visualize all the family who had once known The Land, and I felt as if I knew them, too. . . .

"Many of the stories told were humorous, some were tragic, but all told of the dignity and survival of a people living in a society that allowed them few rights as citizens and treated them as inferiors. Much history was in those stories, and I never tired of hearing them. There were stories about slavery and the days following slavery. There were stories about family and friends." ("Acceptance of the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for The Friendship." The Horn Book Magazine, March 1989, 179-80)

From these stories, Taylor learned about her great-grandfather, the son of a slave woman and a white plantation owner in Alabama. In the late 1800s, this young man ran away from Alabama and subsequently bought land and settled in Mississippi. The Land that he purchased more than 100 years ago is still owned by the Taylor family. In the 1950s, Taylor attended newly integrated schools in Toledo. She graduated from Scott High School in 1961 and from the University of Toledo in 1965. After graduation from college, she joined the Peace Corps and spent two years in Ethiopia. When she returned to the United States, she enrolled in the University of Colorado, eventually earning a master's degree. After she graduated from the University of Colorado, Taylor settled in Los Angeles to pursue her writing career.

Her manuscript Song of the Trees won the first Council on Interracial Books for Children Award in 1974 and was published by Dial Books in 1975. Her first novel, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry won the 1977 Newbery Award from the American Library Association. The Land is the ninth book in her award-winning saga about the Logan family.

 

Notes to the Reader from Mildred D. Taylor

"In the recent years, because of my concern about our 'politically correct' society, I have found myself hesitating about using words that would have been spoken during the period my books are set. But just as I have had to be honest with myself in the telling of all my stories, I realized I must be true to the feelings of the people about whom I write, and I must be true to the stories told. My father and the other storytellers told my family's history truly, and it is this history I have related in my books. When there was humor, my family passed it on. When there was tragedy, they passed it on. When the words hurt, they passed them on. My stories will not be 'politically correct,' so there will be those who will be offended by them, but as we all know, racism is offensive." (Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, 25th Anniversary Edition, vi-vii)

"All of my books are based on stories told by my family, and on the history of the United States. In my writing I have attempted to be true to those stories and the history. I have included characters, incidents, and language that present life as it was in many parts of the United States before the Civil Rights Movement. Although there are those who wish to ban my books because I have used language that is painful, I have chosen to use the language that was spoken during the period, for I refuse to whitewash history. The language was painful and life was painful for many African-Americans, including my family.

"I remember the pain.

"Since writing my first book, Song of the Trees, it has been my wish to have readers walk in the shoes of the Logan family, who are based on my family, and to feel what they felt. It has been my wish that by understanding this family and what they endured, there would be further understanding of what millions of families endured, and there would also be a further understanding of why there was a Civil Rights Movement, a movement that changed our nation." (The Land, xiii)

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