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Book Club Kits: The Road from Chapel Hill

Alamance County Public Libraries offer Book Club Kits for check out to area book clubs. Each kit contains 10 copies of a book and a reading guide.

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Book Summary

Once, Eugenia Mae Spotswood spent her days being courted by the very finest men of Wilmington and planning a privileged future as a landed Southern belle. Then her family lost everything. Now, as she toils for survival aboveground and her father works a mine for a pittance, she longs to regain the life she lost. But her desires are about to turn far more unlikely - and dangerous - than she ever dreamed.

Thought only to be a hulking lackwit, Mr. Morgan's slave Tom was smart enough to know one thing: he wanted his freedom. But he is caught and almost crippled after making a run for it, and finds himself owned - and cared for - by Eugenia Spotswood. A dangerous affection grows between them. But he will learn that freedom is not something she can give him - he must fight for it himself.

Farm boy Clyde Bricket always wanted more than his pa would allow. So when he helps capture the runaway Tom, he thinks he's found his calling as a patroller and fugitive slave catcher. But time will show him that not every cause is worth dying for - and that sometimes the only way to redeem yourself is to fight against everything you thought you believed in . . .

Discussion Questions

  • Early in the novel, a resentful Eugenia is talking with her father about their situation.  When he gives thanks that her mother is not alive to see how far they’ve fallen, she says, “Why, sir, I am alive.”  What does her shame about their new status say about her character?  How would you have reacted in a similar situation?

  • In Gold Hill, Eugenia is coerced into service as a nurse to injured minors.  Later, living with Aunt Baker, she willingly nurses deserting soldiers.  What do you think drives her now?  How much of her passion is guilt over the death of her father and her role in it?

  • Would you characterize the love between Tom and Eugenia as romantic, or is it more complicated?  When Eugenia notices that Tom is in pain on the rockers, she persuades her father to change his duties.  Why do you think she feels pity for Tom and not her father?

  • After Mr. Spotswood buys Tom for Eugenia, Miz Hedra begins to refer to her as “Miss Hoity-Toity.”  Would you call this a reflection of Miz Hedra’s disdain for slavery, her jealousy of Eugenia, or something else?  Do you agree with Eugenia’s assessment of Miz Hedra as a hypocrite?

  • The theme of freedom runs throughout the novel.  In what ways is Tom, despite his slavery, freer than Eugenia?  In what ways is Clyde, a free white boy, enslaved?

  • All three protagonists have some issues with their fathers.  Discuss the ways in which they handle them.

  • When Eugenia asks Tom how he thinks it feels to be white, he says, “Don’t rightly now, Miz Genie.  Angry, mebbe,” and Eugenia realizes that, despite her show of affection, he can tell she’s angry with her father.  What else do you think Tom sees in her?  In what ways is Tom the most perceptive character in the story, despite being called a simpleton?

  • Clyde spends much of the beginning of the novel planning to become a patroller and runaway-slave catcher.  Instead, he winds up fighting for the North and losing these ambitions.  Discuss the instances in which Clyde shows himself to be more of a man than he was at the outset of the novel.  In which ways is he still a boy?

  • After her father kills himself, Eugenia is rescued from destitution by Dr. Kinney, who places her with Aunt Baker.  Do you believe that all Eugenia needed to become a better person was a strong mother figure?  How do Alouette, Henry, Aunt Baker and Eugenia fill the gaps in each other’s lives to form a family?

  • Are there any parallels between the story of Rahab and the Order of the Heroes of America (Red Strings)?  Between Jericho and the South?

  • In the turpentine plantation, Robert tells Tom, “Freedom ain’t some gift this Miss Genie lady give you . . . You got to hunt it down and catch it.  You got to snatch it in your hand.”  How does this affect Tom’s perception of freedom?  How do the three protagonists go about snatching their own freedom in their hands?

  • Eugenia battles to save Clyde from death, even going to Chapel Hill with him to ensure he has his leg reamputated.  Why does she need him to survive so badly?  Why is Clyde so desperate to go home, despite the dangers of the journey?

  • Why do you think Scott called this novel The Road From Chapel Hill?  How does the town of Chapel Hill serve as an anchor to the story?

  • This novel is rich with minor characters.  Which of them appeals to you, and why?  What impact do they have on the direction of the story?

  • Toward the end of the novel, Eugenia learns a shocking secret about herself.  How did the author allude to it all along?  How did Eugenia’s subconscious awareness of it affect her perception of herself?

  • Scott subtly captures the split attitudes of Southerners, especially North Carolinians, toward the war between the states.  In what ways have Scott’s images and depictions come to inform, challenge, or even contradict your previous notions?

  • Tom was a real person.  In fact, Scott dedicates the novel to him.  How does this affect your reaction to him, and to the novel as a whole?

  • At the end of the novel, Eugenia, a stronger woman, is walking off the page in search of her mother and her future.  How do you think her story and Tom’s might have continued?