FLIGHT OF THE SPARROW
A Novel of Early America

By AmyBelding Brown
New American LibraryJuly 2014
penguin.com
amybeldingbrown.com

Trade Paperback368 pages, $15.00, ISBN: 9780451466693
Subject: History / Women's Lives / Personal Challenges

  1. What was your overall response to the novel? What did you feel? What did you learn?
  2. Discuss Mary Rowlandson’s relationships with the three men in her life—Joseph, James, and Samuel. What does she give and what does she receive from each relationship?
  3. Mary Rowlandson lives in a society ruled by men in which women were allowed few of the freedoms that we take for granted today. Identify those constraints, discuss how they might have helped or hurt the Bay Colony’s survival, and discuss how women might have found meaning in life despite them.
  4. As an Indian captive, Mary feels freed from the constraint of “mutual watch,” the “relentless scrutiny of each other’s conduct required of all church members.” Discuss the idea of mutual watch as it plays out in the novel, and what it might be like to live under such a system. Can you think of any modern-day equivalents?
  5. Mary experiences both cruelty and kindness at the hands of her Indian captors. Compare their behavior toward her to the cruelty and kindness shown her by her husband, Joseph, and other members of English society.
  6. Discuss the various forms that freedom and imprisonment take in the novel. What role does the sparrow play in the author’s exploration of those ideas?
  7. While living with the Indians Mary begins to find beauty, peace, and sacred mystery in the wilderness. How does she initially view the natural world and what inspires this change? Compare her experience of the natural world to your own.
  8. Mary becomes convinced that slavery and physically punishing her children are wrong, and she stands up to her husband Joseph on these issues. What makes her so sure she is correct to reject them? Is mere conviction enough, or is something else required?
  9. James Printer tells Mary, “We have both bought our redemption at a terrible price.” And Mary realizes that she felt redeemed when she followed the promptings of her heart. Discuss the many meanings of redemption in the novel.
  10. The Puritan worldview differs markedly from our own. Discuss their beliefs as they relate to God’s love and punishment, child rearing, grief, the infectious nature of sin, slavery, obedience to authority, and salvation. In what ways are these ideas still part of current thought and practice? In what ways have our thinking changed?
  11. Because their exposure to another culture has changed their beliefs and perceptions, both Mary and James feel estranged from their original people. Have you ever felt estranged from your own “group of origin”? Care to share your experience?
  12. Have you read other “captivity narratives,” either those from previous centuries or those written by recent, contemporary captives (such as Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard)? How do they compare with Mary Rowlandson’s story?
  13. What do you most admire about Mary? What makes her story relevant today?
  14. What do you hope to remember about this novel six months or a year from now? Do you think that some part of it will remain with you for even longer than that?

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