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|THE HEALING by
Jonathan Odell will be a perfect citywide read during the upcoming
4-year anniversary of The Civil War.
Here are a few topics for group discussion:
1. How does Polly Shine’s approach to medical treatment differ from
that of the white doctors who previously treated the Satterfield slaves?
What does she mean when she says, “The magic weren’t in the food. It was
in the seeing”? Does the way a doctor sees his or her patients determine
the prescribed treatment? In your experience, how important is the
personal connection between doctor and patient?
2. Many popular works that address interracial relationships rely on a
formula of a benevolent white savior empowering downtrodden blacks. Can
you think of any books or films that employ this trope? What would Polly
Shine say about this? How would she react to history books that claim
that African Americans were “given” their freedom, or “given” the right
3. The “magic negro,” who, by use of special insight or powers helps the
white protagonist, is a supporting archetype in fiction. Can you think
of any examples of this stock character in other works? Does Polly Shine
perpetuate the stereotype of the magic negro, or dispel it?
4. Of what significance are role models in The Healing? How
important is it for children to see a reflection of themselves in the
powerful and successful people around them?
5. In his research for The Healing, Jonathan Odell consulted an
oral history project conducted by the WPA in the 1930s in which
thousands of surviving former slaves were interviewed. There were some
who said that given the poverty, discrimination, and random brutality
they had experienced in the twentieth century, they wished they were
still slaves under their old masters. Indeed, Master Satterfield in
The Healing is not stereotypically cruel. Are there any instances
when he seems sympathetic to his slaves? Does servitude under a kind
tyrant make such a system less objectionable or more?
6. Gran Gran tells Violet, “After Freedom, everybody all of a sudden had
to decide where he or she belonged. Nobody to tell them no more. Wasn’t
easy for some of us. . . . Some of us picked wrong, I reckon.” What does
she mean? How do the other Satterfield slaves satisfy their need for
belonging after freedom? What choice does Silas make? Sylvie? Chester?
7. When Rubina turns to Polly for an abortion, the question arises of
who has authority over Rubina’s body—the slave master, God, the people,
or Rubina herself. Do you think Polly makes the right decision? After
150 years, how does this issue still surface in American life?
8. In the 1950s the medical establishment began a coordinated campaign
to discredit midwives, who were still the major health-care providers to
rural black women in the South. Yet years after the medical
establishment won the battle, statistics showed that in many instances
the live birth rate was higher among the black midwives than under the
white, professionally trained doctors who replaced them. Why do you
think this was so?
9. Polly talks about a “two-headed snake of Freedom” that will bite not
only the Master, but the slave as well. What does she mean? And do the
events of the novel play out this way?
10. Why doesn’t Polly take Granada with her? Do you agree with her
11. What role does storytelling play in The Healing? How does it
influence individuals, communities, and nations? How does the concept of
“story” apply to contemporary methods of healing?