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|The questions that
follow are intended to enhance your group's reading and discussion of
MAY THE ROAD RISE UP TO MEET YOU by Peter Troy
An engrossing, epic American drama told from four distinct
perspectives, spanning the first major wave of Irish immigration to New
York through the end of the Civil War. The following questions, written
by the author, are intended to enhance your reading experience and to
generate lively discussion among the members of your book group.
1. All four main characters are greatly influenced by a loved one who
has passed away. Describe the significance of each of these
relationships and how they impact the still living characters.
2. Discuss the impact reading and writing have on of each of the four
main character’s lives.
3. Each character is assigned their own narrative voice and grammatical
structure throughout the book. How and why do they change, either subtly
(Ethan, Marcella, Micah), or dramatically (Mary), as their stories
4. For each of the four main characters, the Civil War, in a manner of
speaking, “makes” them. How does the outbreak of the war alter their
5. How are the love stories of Ethan and Marcella, Mary and Micah
6. In The Odyssey, Odysseus was said to have spent twenty years away
from home. How is his story connected to Ethan’s similar journey?
Each of the four main characters is born into a situation where he
or she is instructed in no uncertain terms to understand their “place”.
Whether it is at the lowest or highest levels of the societal hierarchy,
there are quite specific sets of instructions on how to properly behave
so as not to place themselves outside the realm of normalcy.
7. Discuss the general restrictions placed upon each character, Mary and
Micah as slaves, Marcella as a woman, Ethan as a poor Irishman.
8. How is each character reminded by someone close to them to stay
within the range of accepted behavior?
9. How is the psychological impact of these instructions portrayed in
10. How does each character, either secretly or overtly, rebel against
those same instructions?
11. What are the results of these rebellions and how does it alter the
life of each character?
The “Great Hunger” (also called the “Potato Famine”) in Ireland is a
generally misunderstood period in history, often being left out
completely from American textbooks or covered only for the impact it had
on Irish immigration to America. It is estimated that more than one
million deaths could be attributed to disease and starvation between the
years of 1846-1851, and between death and emigration, Ireland’s
population decreased by fully 20% during those few years.
12. Considering that Ireland continued to export food to England during
the worst years of The Hunger, why is the term “famine” a misnomer, and
how does it reflect the notion that the winners write the history books?
13. How is Ethan’s family impacted by the rule of the English crown?
14. Why might Ethan’s Mam consider the stories Mr. Hanratty tells Ethan
to be potentially quite dangerous?
15. How does Mr. Hanratty’s statement to Ethan, “If it’s a happy tale
yer after, den sure you was bahrn in th’wrong land,” reflect the tragic
impact English policies had on Irish attitudes?
16. As Ethan views his native land in the increasing distance from
onboard the ferry, he begins to understand why Mr. Hanratty would refer
to Ireland as “she” or “her” and not “it”. Discuss the emotional impact
leaving one’s native land under such circumstances would have on a
person. How might that affect how they view their adoptive country in
ways good and bad?
The issue of race has been a contentious one in American society,
politics and culture from the very early days of the Colonial Age until
the present day, often impacting the portrayal of different characters
in film and literature through a stereotypical lens.
17. How are Micah and Mary different from the stereotypical slave?
18. How is their ascent from slavery first a mental journey, then a
19. The range of slave/owner relationships in the book is extensive,
from brutality to pseudo-love. How does this reflect the psychological
and emotional impact of slavery on both the slaves and their owners?
20. How is the relationship that develops between Ethan and Micah made
possible? What encounters along their journeys are critical in forming
their attitudes towards each other?
The author has said that the book, while set amidst the backdrop of
great historical moments, is at its core about faith.
21. While faith is never discussed in specific terms, how is Gertie’s
stitchin’ in the prologue, and its connection to the final scene, a
metaphor for faith?
22. If anger, hurt, disappointment, fear and doubt are some of the
principle obstacles to faith, how do these elements affect the four main
characters? Discuss specific moments when each of them confronts these
aspects within themselves and the change, if any, which comes from them.
23. What is the significance of the term “frontsways”? Where does it
come from originally and how does it apply to the journey of all four
24. How is the author’s use of different narrative voices, perspectives,
and grammatical structure, a metaphor related to this very theme?
*The author recommends the e.e. cummings poem “I thank you God for this
most amazing,” for further reflection on the idea of “frontsways”.