A Reader’s Guide to Wake Not the Hangman

Copyright 2015 by Deborah Leigh

WAKE NOT THE HANGMAN COMPLETE

 

  1. Discuss in detail the similarities, if any, in the legal issues surrounding the lives, predicaments, and actions of Thornton, Marcus, Rose, William, Ronan, Henry, and Colleen and ones that may exist for some people today. Address why, in a so-called more enlightened era, these similarities exist. Consider: motive for lack of progress, human nature, multi-generational behaviors.
  1. Thornton committed a death penalty crime by 1855 standards. Do you believe he should have been hanged? Why or why not? Consider: violation of a death penalty crime versus whether a crime—or any crime—should be punishable by death.
  1. In guilt societies, the response to sympathy for convicted criminals who face loss of freedom may be, “He should have thought of that.” Is “He should have thought of that” a sufficient response to the family members of those on death row, whose loved one will be killed? Discuss how far the death penalty reaches and whether the suffering of the loved ones of those executed is merely tangential to the sentence of death or unfair collateral punishment.
  1. When people are part of a mob (a large group of people behaving in concert to achieve one aim), they sometimes do things they would not do as individuals. Do you believe that if each person who owned a slave when slavery was legal in the United States had to be the only person who owned a slave, he or she would have been willing to own slaves? Why or why not? Include mob dynamics in your discussion, even if your position is that mob dynamics are not a factor either way.
  1. If, like Thornton, you knew it was against the law to aid slaves in their escape, would you have acted as he did? Consider: what is moral versus what is legal. Can morality be achieved simply by virtue of obeying the law? Can breaking the law be moral? Provide examples.
  1. Do you believe the action Rose took on the Jones farm was justified, or was it vigilantism that should have been punished by law? Discuss.
  1. Should Hiram Elliot have been arrested for any of his actions? If so, for which ones and why? If not, why not?
  1. If you had to be the attorney for one of the characters in Wake Not the Hangman, who would it be and why? Consider: the many ways you could represent the character, for example, in family court; as a plaintiff in a lawsuit; as a defendant on trial; as a child in need of protective services. Consider also: representing the government prosecuting a character.
  1. Do you believe American jurisprudence has changed significantly, not much at all, or to a degree in between since the 1830s? Discuss to what extent, if any. Consider: whether the courts today effectively protect the rights of women, children, social subgroups, and workers.
  1. Are vestiges of American slavery present in American society today? If so, discuss in detail the evidence that demonstrates this.
  1. “Paternalism” may be defined as a system under which an authority regulates the conduct of others as they relate to the authority and each other or that supplies the needs of a regulated group. Is slavery naturally paternalistic? If so, what are the ramifications, if any, for a society that engages in centuries-long slavery, both during that period and after it ends? Further, if slavery is reflective of paternalism, note the disjunctive in the definition and discuss whether both segments apply to slavery, i.e., whether slavery “supplies the needs of those regulated.” In addition, if slavery is not reflective of paternalism, what kind of system, if any, does it reflect? Finally, discuss instances of paternalism, if any, present in Wake Not the Hangman.
  1. If every American slave had been taught to read and write at an early age and had been educated as free children were, do you believe slavery would have survived as long as it did? Why or why not? Further, discuss what you believe to be the effects on a society when an entire segment of the population is kept illiterate for three centuries. Discuss also to what extent, if any, literacy and illiteracy played a role in both the plight and the escape of Thornton and the other protagonists.
  1. Ethan’s perspective on slavery changed by the end of the book. What or who do you think most impacted his viewpoint?
  1. With which character in Wake Not the Hangman do you most identify? Why?
  1. If you were forced to sleep for 20 years, what would you most hope to see resolved in your slumbering absence?