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The Land

Mildred D. Taylor

Study Questions and Suggested Essay Topics

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Study Questions

Keeping in mind their behavior toward Mitchell in the first chapter, are Hammond and George racist? What definition of "racist" do you use in this context, and use evidence to support your opinion.

Hammond and George, like their father and like Paul before his coming- of-age, cannot help the fact that they receive certain privileges because they are (or, in Paul's case, appear) white, as Paul repeatedly protests to Mitchell. As Mitchell points out during his conversation by the river with Paul, however, none are especially likely to reject these privileges or to work especially hard to change a system that favors them. By virtue of this, they could be considered "passive racists": not likely to abuse their privileges as whites but not likely to question or challenge them either. Though they are not responsible for, or guilty of, creating racism, they contribute to its perpetuation by participating in it.

Though the two brothers claim explicitly not to be racist, going so far as to physically threaten a boy who calls Paul a "nigger," their actions betray that they are at the very least influenced by the concept of white superiority. Hammond and George's explicit reason for "talking" to Mitchell is to protect Paul, but their "discussion" has clear racist overtones that intensify as the conversation progresses: Hammond and George, both older than Mitchell, are implicitly physically threatening Mitchell by appearing as a pair. And despite Hammond's friendly talk, George quickly becomes irate when Mitchell refuses to respond to him and reminds Mitchell of his authority as a white man. Thus, the two boys bring their race to bear in a private interaction with another individual: they are capitalizing on their race even if not explicitly and cruelly abusing it.

Why do Mitchell and Paul warn Nathan never to befriend a white man?

Paul and Mitchell base their warning to Nathan on their experiences thus far in life: they have experienced the explicit and ugly racism of men like Jessup and Sutcliffe and the quieter but equally devastating racism of men like Paul's father and the bankers who refuse Paul loans to buy his own land. They understand that even whites who seem friendly to blacks deep in their hearts do not consider blacks their equals. Paul knows from personal experience the sting of his own brother's betrayal over race relations. Paul and Mitchell sense that there is little way a white can grow up in their society without having a worldview shaped by racist attitudes, and they do not want to see Nathan betrayed. The costs of betrayal, the two men know, can be high, and even the attention of a friendly white can attract the attention of hostile whites, as in the case of John and Digger Wallace. Though Paul does call on Charles Jamison's help, he understands that a friendly association with the man can only lead to betrayal and possible real trouble.

What differences exist between Mitchell and Paul in their reaction to bigotry? Whom do you respect more? Why?

Mitchell, beaten as a boy by his father, reacts impulsively emotionally when faced with bigotry. When the two men are traveling to Vicksburg, Mitchell tells Paul that his dream for life is to live free and be free, and he does indeed live according to this maxim: Mitchell defies Hammond and George in the first chapter of the book, speaking to them sullenly and reluctantly. When Sutcliffe refuses to pay Paul, Mitchell forcibly takes the money that is due to Paul. And when Digger Wallace demands Mitchell do his bidding, Mitchell refuses and humiliates him. Mitchell's reactions are bold, apt, and heartfelt, but ultimately they work against him, curtailing the time he has on earth to live and be free.

Paul, on the other hand, has been taught carefully by his father to fight with his head and not his fists and to always, at the risk of bitter reprisal, behave respectfully toward white men, no matter how vile their words or acts. Paul wages a campaign of compliant resistance: he accepts the abuses and setbacks inflicted upon him by whites, but he perseveres with impressive steadiness and determination. He carefully saves his money, he works diligently as a carpenter, and he makes outrageous and barely tenable deals on land all toward the realization of his dreams of a life of quiet dignity and self-sufficiency. Ultimately, Paul's is the more effective resistance: through his quiet hard work and acquiescence to white authority, he provides wealth and opportunity for himself and his children.

Suggested Essay Topics

What events and factors contribute to Paul's decision to repudiate his father's authority at the horse fair?

Should Paul's father have raised Paul differently? If so, how differently?

Why did Taylor entitle the novel The Land? Write one or two other possible titles and explain why they are appropriate.

What events and factors led to Robert's betrayal of Paul? Do you sympathize with Robert or blame him? Do you think, overall, that he is a good brother or a bad brother? Why?

Why is owning land so important to Paul?

Why does Taylor start and end the book where she does?

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