1. Little Washington Jones is the first character we meet in the book. How do these first few pages, which give us a strong sense of his world view and of Quakertown, set up our expectations for the rest of the story?
2. Little’s father once told him that a black man with a talent could always make white folks take notice. How does Little’s gift for gardening affect his own life? The lives of others? What kind of husband and father is he?
3. In the Prologue, Eugie tells Little that he’s “as proud as Lucifer.” What does she mean by this? She calls him a yardman who “carries white folks’ dirt home under his fingernails” but that nothing is ever going to make him white. Do you think Little wishes he were white? Does he resent his blackness? Or is it Eugie who is ashamed of the part of her mixed heritage?
4. Is Tibby Bell secretly ashamed that her son is crippled? Do she and Andrew blame themselves for his deformity? Does Kizer blame them? How does this influence his love for Camellia?
5. Which character influences Camellia the most? What is the relationship between Camellia and Eugie? How does her mother play a significant role in Camellia’s decision about her unborn child? Describe.
6. How would you describe the relationship between Little and his employer, Andrew? In what ways does it exemplify relations between whites and blacks of that particular time and place in America? In what ways is it unique? What is Little’s initial reaction when Andrew requests his help in moving Quakertown to another location?
7. What does Ike Mattoon represent in the story? Does he seem to truly love Camellia? What role does he play in the novel’s later tragedy?
8. How do Camellia’s actions throughout the course of the book affect the lives of others? How does her decision to marry Ike in spite of the fact that she may be carrying Kizer’s child affect her? How does it affect Ike? Kizer?
9. What does the unborn baby come to symbolize in the story?
10. Shame is a recurring theme in the book and reverberates in the lives of most of the characters: Little, Kizer, Camellia, Ike, Bert Gleason. Discuss the source of this powerful emotion in each of the character’s lives and how it affects their actions.
11. How do themes of pride and redemption play out in the book, especially after Andrew accidentally kills Eugie? How does the tragedy impact on the other characters, Tibby in particular?
12. How does knowing the history of the characters help you to understand their present motives and behavior? For example, the suicide of Tibby’s mother?