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The questions below are provided by permission of the author to help your reading group have a meaningful discussion about Beneath Every Troublin’ Stone. Please enjoy!
- Historically, the lives of African Americans were culturally linked to the Christian Church. In church slaves found solace from the sting of slavery; and at church, they used the opportunity to assemble and organize their efforts toward obtaining freedom, education, and their civil rights. Because of this fact, our heroine, Bernice Silverson Tulley, has an inherent spiritual anchor in Beneath Every Troublin’ Stone. In what ways does this knowledge of the Christian tradition for African Americans help you understand the relevance of the story’s spiritual content which frames Bernice’s decisions, behavior, and emotional conflicts?
- Throughout the story, Bernice’s inner voice expressed itself, whether or not she was aware of her spirit voice or heeded it. How did the clashes between Bernice and her spirit voice show the compromises she made between the choices her upbringing dictated and choices that her world offered?
- Metaphors such as troublestones, pebbles in her shoes, and bag of burdens were used frequently in the story. How does this imagery help you understand and feel the depth to which Bernice was preoccupied, consciously and unconsciously, with the daily societal, economic, and racial restraints of her era?
- The early twentieth century was a period when class-ism, sexism, racism and discrimination were status quo in the United States. With regard to each of these issues, how might have Bernice’s story been different or the same during this time if she were a white woman? Think in terms of the social, financial, and political opportunities available to white women in that period.
- Fortune teller Sister Sadie revealed Bernice’s her special spiritual gift. What was it? Even during her lack of faith and disillusionment, in what ways did Bernice use her spiritual gift to help other women around her? Did she have any other spiritual gifts?
- The substance of Bernice’s attraction and love for each of her husbands was different. How does each husband’s character and marriage to her reflect the deterioration of her faith and spiritual condition?
- Considering the historical time period, what do you think of the variety of portrayals of African American men in the story, in terms of their character traits, such as their levels of ambition, their attitudes toward women, and as providers for their families? What about the variety of portrayals of White American men in the story?
- Other than to become a bootlegger, a speakeasy operator, and a brothel madam, what other choices do you think Bernice could have made to cope with the economic hardships she faced? Of the different choices you named, what do you think the outcomes might have been for Bernice and her family?
- Bernice was an early twentieth-century woman. In what ways do you think the gender or economic issues of her time have improved or not improved for today’s women, in general? What safety nets does today’s society provide that would have helped Bernice avoid some of the decisions she made?
- As its main themes, the author sees Beneath Every Troublin’ Stone as a story about discarding one’s faith, ignoring one’s role in one’s own difficulties, and whether faith in the Power that is greater than one’s self can be regained; a faith which leads to a forgiveness and spiritual fulfillment. What other themes did you see about life and society in the story?