DL Larson
author of Memories TrailPromises to Keep
and newly released
Promises My Love
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Discussion Questions

Discussion Guide for

Memories Trail, by DL Larson

 

            This guide is divided into three sections: Diversity of Cultures, Historical Aspects and Writing Techniques.  Use these study questions individually or collectively as your course develops.  For further exploration of this book, or the author, visit www.dllarson.com

 

Diversity of Cultures

Religion/Racial Customs

Torture vs. Discipline

Sexuality

 

Historical Aspects

Survival Skills

Slavery vs. prison

Rules of Engagement

Language

Governmental Issues

 

Writing Techniques

Characterization

Point of View

Style of Writing

Plot

Research

 

 

 

Diversity of Cultures

In this section, discussion will cover such aspects as religion, racial customs, torture versus discipline, and sexuality.  The characters diversified backgrounds bring conflict to the forefront.  If there were no other problems for these characters to solve, their cultural beliefs would still divide them.  Be thinking of your own beliefs and how you will justify them.  The ultimate question is … How different are we?  And how do these differences hinder or help us as a people to make this a better world?

 

Religion/Racial Customs

  1. Elizabeth came from a staunch, Christian background.  Her beliefs left little room for interpretation.  The rules governing her life were basic with strict consequences for deviating from them.  Will lived by the whims of nature and the bits of Pawnee customs he adopted as a child.  His conscience was his compass in deciding what was right and what was wrong.  His beliefs were as deeply ingrained as Elizabeth’s.  Tecumseh was by far the most worldly of the three characters.  He understood the white man’s religion.  He had been educated in a mission when he’d been a child and spent a lifetime studying the white man’s ways.  He was also deeply devoted to a supreme being, Moneto.  He realized his God was also Elizabeth’s God. 

Did their various beliefs unite them as well as divide them?  Did Will’s cavalier attitude toward marriage hinder his relationship with Elizabeth?  Would your religious upbringing be as strong as Elizabeth’s if you were in such a predicament?  Think of a time when you had to decide what your beliefs were and how you had to defend them.

 

 

  1. In many cultures, religion is the basis of structure that molds people’s lives.  Without a common belief – chaos lurks.  Tenskwatawa, the prophet, used his position to bring on distrust of Will.  In Chapter Three, Will must runt he gauntlet to prove he was not the devil.  Do you think Tenskwatawa was justified in instigating this event?  Will’s own beliefs led him to take action.  Would your beliefs have been as strong as Will’s?  Could you have endured the contest of strength it took to make a village accept you?

 

  1. Elizabeth’s visions were not acknowledged in her own family or religious society,

      so she kept them to herself.  Yet Tecumseh was honored in his world because of a   

      similar gift.  Only through Tecumseh’s coaxing did Elizabeth begin to accept her

      station as one who sees.  Did that step of acceptance open Elizabeth’s mind to a

      new understanding that her own religious customs were not the only ones with

      merit?  If so, how?  When do you think Will finally understood or believed in

      Elizabeth’s gift of vision?

 

 

Torture versus Discipline

 

  1. The book featured three major torture scenes:

-          Chapter 3 – Will running the gauntlet to prove he wasn’t the devil.

-          Chapter 18 – beginning on page 298 – When Colonel Dudley led the colonists into an ambush.  Survivors were stripped and made to run the gauntlet, but no sanctuary awaited them.  Tecumseh stopped the butchery stating no honorable warrior inflicted pain on wounded, defenseless men.

-          Chapter 19 – beginning on page 307 – When Tenskwatawa once again tortured Will, this time for being with the colonists.

Did these tortures differ?  Were they justified?  In Chapter 18, the warriors out-smarted the colonist colonel and they had gained a great victory.  Why wasn’t that enough?  Why did the butchery continue?  And do you think Tecumseh was right in putting a stop to it?

In Chapter 19, Tenskwatawa dragged Will away to inflict his own private torture.  How did Tenskwatawa validate his actions?  And do you believe Tecumseh should have intervened?  Why did Will think he deserved such treatment?

 

  1. In our society today, random torture sweeps through our streets, some aimed specifically and some not.  Laws set in place decide the severity of the punishment.  Our courts, led by jury, decree guilty/not guilty verdicts.  Is this more effective than vigilante tactics from past times?  Is it similar?  Have we as a society, changed or deterred our violent nature in the nearly 200 years since Tecumseh lived?  How?  Has progress brought us closer to harnessing our vigilante instincts?

 

  1. General Harrison, Governor of the Indiana Territory, used tactics in dealing with

Indian tribes that many folks did not approve of.  His dream, a common one of the day, was to expand the nation.  In order to accomplish his task, Indians had to move out of the way, but most tribes did not want to give up their homes.  Will was extremely upset with Harrison’s tactics.  In Chapter 24, page 236, Will revealed some of his reservations toward the actions of the United States.  Do you think history would have changed if the colonial government had used other reasoning rather than brute force to disperse the Indian nations?  Do you think Tecumseh’s dream of a united Indian Nation could have materialized?  How would that have changed our society today?

 

 

Sexuality

 

  1. Despite race, culture or religious beliefs, humanity can not deny its sexual inheritance.  Some cultures go to great extremes to stifle this basic marking, while others take it in stride as a natural part of life.  Many religions frown on the slightest misconduct; Elizabeth’s religion undoubtedly fell into this category while Will had a more liberal understanding that sex was an extension of commitment toward another.

Discuss the early chapters where Elizabeth’s up-bringing prevented her from loving Will freely – to later in Chapters 11 and 12 – when Will felt the need to end their marriage because he had broken his promises to her.

 

  1. Tecumseh had two previous marriages before he met Elizabeth.  In Chapter 4 – he realized Will was Elizabeth’s rightful mate and honored that commitment.  He stated on page 52 – that Will was the protector of Green Eyes.  However, Tecumseh didn’t completely dismiss the possibility that Elizabeth might someday change her mind.  Tecumseh had a unique connection with Elizabeth that Will didn’t share.  Their visions united them in an intimate way. 

Did that affect Will?  On pages 279-280 – Will realized the affection Tecumseh harbored for Elizabeth.  Discuss how Will handled Tecumseh’s answer and what he could have done differently.  Did his solution to this touchy subject solidify the friendship between the two men?

 

  1. In Chapter 19 – Elizabeth talked Devon into finding Will, and they traveled north until they reached Tecumseh’s camp where in Chapter 22, page 340, she was told, ‘Will is no more.’  She realized in Chapter 23 that she could easily agree to become Tecumseh’s lover, but not if Will was still alive.  The triangle of friendship took on a new dimension at this point, with Will being the odd man out.  Discuss Tecumseh’s restraint as well as Will’s predicament that wouldn’t allow him to claim Elizabeth.  Did Elizabeth’s religion or inhibitions prevent her from succumbing to Tecumseh’s charm?  Or was her love for Will stronger than any sexual urge she had for the Shawnee warrior?

 

 

Historical Aspects

  In this section discussion will cover the topics of survival skills, slavery versus prison, language, rules of engagement and governmental issues.  The characters hold to their own conviction that ultimately draws the line of separation between personal benefit versus society’s advancement.  Be thinking of your own freedom of choice and how you would protect it.  And again, the question is … How different are we?  And do these differences help or hinder us to better the world?

 

Survival Skills

  1. At the beginning of the book, Elizabeth lost her father and brother because they lacked basic survival skills.  She soon learned she needed to adapt or be swept into a life of servitude with no significance.  Do you believe Tecumseh assisted her in finding her independence by asking for her help in healing Two River Running?  Do you think Tecumseh considered Elizabeth’s gift of vision a survival skill?  And why do you think Elizabeth believed her own skills as a teacher worthless?

 

  1. As a man of nature, Will considered his knowledge of the frontier common sense.  He’d grown up learning various Indian customs and accepted most as simply the way things were.  Discuss his knowledge on how to enter an Indian village as a guest rather than an intruder.  Did his respect toward their ways gain him any ground once Tenskwatawa accused him of being the devil?  How do you think his survival skills aided him in dealing with the task of the gauntlet?

 

  1. Tecumseh had many survival skills, perhaps the most important was understanding the white man’s greed for land.  He spent more than ten years preparing to align the Indian nations together.  He traveled over what is most the Midwest today – talking to many tribes, asking them to join him.  Many were sworn enemies to the Shawnee, but Tecumseh used survival skills to work his way past dissention and in the process gathered in many allies.  Compare his skill of manipulation to today’s politicians.  Do they differ?  Are the promises made to adversaries today any less stimulating than the ones Tecumseh made so long ago?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slavery versus Prison

  1. When we hear the word slavery, most Americans think of the struggle of the African blacks bought to work the cotton fields in the south.  But slavery existed on many levels in America.  Many immigrants were indentured servants, some to their own people who had power over them.  Thousands did not survive the grueling work they were expected to do.  In Elizabeth’s circumstance, she was valued much like the black slave of the south –for the work she could produce, thereby lightening the load of work for her captor.  Harming her would only hinder her performance.  If she had been a prisoner in Tecumseh’s village, then pain and humiliation would have been a big part of her existence.  If you had been in Elizabeth’s place, would you have confessed to your owner the visions you had? 

Are you familiar with the Old Testament where Joseph’s own brothers sold him into slavery?  (Genesis 37-45)  He too had visions; he interpreted dreams and thereby gained the attention of the King.  Compare Elizabeth’s plight with that of Joseph’s.

 

  1. In Chapter 18, after the ambush at the ravine, Will and hundreds of other colonist soldiers were forced to run the gauntlet at the old Miami fort.  Many didn’t survive the trip.  When Tenskwatawa found Will lying amongst the wounded, he automatically assumed Will had turned against the Indian nation.  Do you think Tenskwatawa’s  torture of Will was justified?  Why did the prophet keep his torture of Will a secret?  If Tecumseh had not intervened, do you believe Will would have killed himself?

 

  1. Once Will was rescued by Tecumseh, in Chapter 21, Will felt desolate to still be alive.  He knew he was under Tecumseh’s protection.  How did that make Will feel – no longer a prisoner, but still not free?  Was Tecumseh right in keeping Will away from the others?  Do you believe bartering over Elizabeth and the baby was a worthy endeavor for Will to do?  What would you have done in his situation?  Was Tecumseh honorable in accepting Will’s proposal?

 

 

Language

  1. Will’s education was unique in the aspect that he learned out of necessity in every day living.  Through first-hand experience, he learned various Indian dialects, French and English.  Discuss how knowing these languages assisted him in growing into the independent man he became.

 

  1. Tecumseh also knew several languages.  He learned to read as a child which enabled him to better understand treaties presented to the Indian tribes.  Discuss how this knowledge helped him as a leader.

 

  1. Elizabeth struggled with learning Shawnee, yet Searing Heart found learning English and French similar to a game.  Discuss the pros and cons of learning various languages at a young age, versus the seriousness of being forced to learn a language for survival.

 

 

Rules of Engagement

  1. Tecumseh encountered many Indian tribes, offering them a new future.  He made promises that when The Panther Walking Across appeared, it would be time to gather together.  To each tribe he visited, he handed over a bundle of sticks – the ends painted red.  One each day was to be thrown away and when that bundle was gone, his prophecy would fill the sky.  He wasn’t always talking to friends when he made this decree, he was trying to crate an alliance and he spoke in a way others would accept.  Divine Intervention would show the tribes he was the prophet who knew the way.  Considering your own religious and cultural background, would you have believed Tecumseh?  Would you have continued to throw away one stick a day and then watched the midnight sky as he requested?  Would you have encouraged your famly to join him once seeing The Panther Walking Across?  In Chapter 13, pages 202-203, Tecumseh told Elizabeth to keep Will home.  Why?

 

  1. The earthquakes Tecumseh predicted were one more natural phenomenon in

hopes of making believers of his prophecy.  He forewarned many that when he stomped his foot all would know it was time to gather together.  Why do you think so many tribes were still reluctant to join him?  Elizabeth’s own dreams told her something ominous was abut happen.  In Chapter 13, pages 207-210, she talked with a Pawnee sachem.  Discuss her revelation in discovering how powerful Tecumseh was in reaching a tribe so far away from the Shawnee.  And again when his prophecy came to pass.

 

 

  1. The British wanted to expand their foothold in America, but being distracted with the French prevented them from being overly concerned with the Colonists unrest.  Napoleon Bonaparte controlled the Louisiana area, but many of his 20,000 troops in the Caribbean (Haiti and Dominican Republic) were wiped out from yellow fever.  So his plan to expand further into the new world halted.  In 1803, he offered not only New Orleans and Florida, but all of the Louisiana territory to America.  President Jefferson sent Robert Livingston and James Monroe to seal the deal.  (Their purchase doubled the size of the United States at a cost of $15 million – 4 cents per acre.)

Although America was a third-rate nation at the time, they profited from the conflict between Britain and France, until Her majesty’s Royal Navy began capturing U.S. Merchant ships and impressed the crews into service, which of course, didn’t go over well.  Embargo Acts didn’t work, and finally President Jefferson made a special act called, The Nonintercourse Act, which prohibited trade with England only.  By 1808, when James Madison became President, war with England was inevitable.

So, understanding the way of things a bit better, what do you think would have happened if the British had focused more of their efforts on the American conflict?  Might we be under British rule today?  If General Brock had stayed in the Detroit area, do you believe that he and Tecumseh could have defeated the 17 fires?

 

 

Governmental Issues

  1. Land ownership has moved nations to do undignified things – mainly annihilate other people.  History is riddled with the gory details of dominion over another.  In the days of Tecumseh, it was no different.

If the Shawnee didn’t stand their ground, they had nothing left – no honor, no dignity, and no home.  They had already given millions of acres away to the United States.  They had no place left to go.  In Chapter 14, page 227 and again on page 236, Will related the problem the Indians faced.  And still the government didn’t try another tactic.  They themselves were being pushed around by a bigger force (Britain).  So they knew full well what they were doing and the effect it might have on a nation of people.  Why do you think the U.S. government pressed for ownership of the land north of the Ohio River and up through Michigan?  Remember the Louisiana territory had been purchased not ten years earlier and the land still needed settling.  What justified this greed?  When is appropriate to send thousands fleeing?

 

  1. Tecumseh had his own political problems to deal with.

-          The British didn’t always comprehend the Indian’s plight.

-          Tribes had trouble staying committed to the cause for various reasons.

-          His own tribe, The Shawnee, couldn’t agree on what the best tactic would be.  Some wanted to remain in compliance with the Greenville Treaty while others knew it no longer provided them the protection it claimed to.

-          The Greenville Treaty was old and no one adhered to it anymore.  Many whites didn’t realize the treaty existed and had moved in on Indian territory.

-          Too many tribes wanted to take the approach let’s wait and see, which was to Harrison’s advantage.

-          Tecumseh didn’t have the means to fight against cannons and large artillery.

             Yet Tecumseh’s strategy worked remarkably well.  Discuss his political and

battle tactics.  Do you think Tecumseh was right in staying allied with the British

after General Brock left?  Do you believe the cause would have changed had

General Proctor been killed?  Do you think Tecumseh should have over-powered

the British fort at Detroit and confiscated its artillery in order to fight the war he

wanted to fight?

 

  1. Harrison’s dealing with the Indians of the Northwest Territory (the Midwest today) were never questioned by the powers that could change his behavior.  In Chapter 18, pages 292-293, Will described Harrison’s strategies to obtain land.  Instead of being reprimanded for being deceitful, Harrison was applauded for the treaties not only from the War of 1812, but also later in 1814, 1817, 1818, and 1819.  Why do you think his strategy was so successful?  Compare the procurement of the Northwest Territory to that of the Louisiana Purchase?  Is Harrison’s treatment similar to todays tactics toward refugees in many of the third world countries?

 

Writing Techniques

In this section we will discuss characterization, point of view, writing style, plot and research.

 

Characterization

  1. The main characters were given strong personalities, along with firm beliefs of their own conviction.  Discuss the flaws as well as strengths and doubts of Will and Elizabeth.  Are these personal issues something you as a reader can relate to?  How do the minor characters help develop the major ones?

 

  1. Tecumseh is a real figure in our history and the author took liberties in giving him voice.  At the same time, this enabled the reader to see Tecumseh as a real person with a life to live and issues to solve.  Discuss the value of learning about one particular live versus the current technical teachings of our history.

 

  1. What makes a character come to life on the page?  How did the author accomplish this?  What makes Will and Elizabeth seem so real?

 

Point of View

  1. The book uses two major points of view, Will and Elizabeth.  Discuss how this moved the story in the direction the author wanted.

 

  1. Discuss how Will’s point of view related political problems to relay information to the reader.  How did the author divulge the same type of information through Elizabeth?

 

  1. Elizabeth expressed personal doubts and wishes easier than Will did.  Discuss how this reflects real life.

 

Writing Style

  1. Analyze the author’s technique of broad strokes to paint a picture of the scenes, while keeping the character in focus.

 

  1. Conflict moved the story on several levels.  Compare the personal struggles Will and Elizabeth faced, as well as the social and political ramifications of their actions.  How did the many layers of conflict develop the story?

 

  1. ‘Walk a mile in their shoes’ style of writing brought the reader in close in order to feel what the characters felt.  Discuss how this technique keeps the reader turning the pages.

 

Plot

  1. Without conflict there is no plot.  List the many conflicts that made this story.  How many were resolved?  How many have the potential of being resolved?  Discuss how one conflict tended to bring on another.  How did this intensify the plot of the story?

 

  1. This plot is the journey of Will and Elizabeth and the perils they faced before standing at Devon’s grave.  Discuss how the flashback worked to relate the story.

 

  1. Is this story character driven or plot drive?  Explain your conclusions.

 

 

Research

  1. Would this story have been as believable without the research to back it up?

 

  1. When does research become part of the story?  How did the author relay the accuracy of the times as it was needed in the story?  Discuss how research propelled the story and gave the reader a glimpse of the worldly and political arena the characters were in.

 

  1. How did the author relate the story without becoming preachy over the knowledge learned through research?  Discuss the aspects of burdening the reader with too much knowledge of the times versus using snip-its of it to move the plot.

 

 

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