In 1429, a French peasant girl hears voices, voices from God, telling her to lead the French army in the fight to have to dauphin crowned as the King of France. Never doubting the voices or the mission, the girl, then called Jeanne, now known as Joan of Arc, leaves her home, disguises herself as a man, and fights the battle that ultimately results in the dauphin's crowning and her death. Her closest friend, Gabrielle, follows her from their village to the battlefield wanting to serve Joan, the wounded soldiers, and God, but unlike Joan, she often doubts everything: the reason for war, her role as a woman, her ability to help wounded soldiers. When they were young girls, Gabrielle was always the tomboy, ready for adventure, while Joan was the more delicate. Now, though, with battles looming, Gabrielle come to wonder who is the dove and who is the sword.
The book is rich in themes. One recurring theme questions the purpose of war. Have students reread the words on the cover, "War is the price of peace." Then have them read the passage that begins at the bottom of page 260. Ask students what the title Dove and Sword means. Direct them to page 223 where Jeanne asks Gabrielle if she is dove or sword. Can one be both?
In addition to the obvious war conflicts, Gabrielle faces internal conflicts. Have students examine Gabrielle's thoughts by comparing the passage, which begins at the bottom of page 38 with the passage that begins with the last paragraph on page 327. What has caused Gabrielle's change? Now what is her main conflict?
This book provides insight into women's roles during the early fifteenth century. Have students identify passages that offer this insight. See pages 52-53, the second paragraph on page 82, and the last paragraph on page 259 as examples. Do any of the sentiments toward women presented in this book still linger today?
Whose story is this? It is told from the point of view of Gabrielle but the author calls it "A Novel of Joan of Arc." Why would the author choose to tell this story from Gabrielle's point of view?
- Have students research the Hundred Years' War looking at the English king Edward III's assumption of the title King of France, the reign of Charles VI, the Battle of Agincourt, the Treaty of Troyes, King Henry V's death, young Henry VI's succession to the throne, and the alignment of the Burgundians with the English. Are any one of these factors more significant in understanding the war between France and England?
- Have students compare and contrast the events that led up to the French and English War with the events that led up to the Civil War and the United States' involvement with WW II.
- Have students read a biography of Joan of Arc and an historical account of the Hundred Years' War. Next have students debate which form of writing, biographical, historical, or historical fiction, provides the most interesting way to learn about history. Finally, have students take another character from history and write either a brief biography, historical fiction sketch, or historical account of that person. Let students discuss how the writing mode affects content.
Other books to compare and contrast
Beyond the Burning Time by Katherine Lasky
Frederick Douglass: Portrait of a Freedom Fighter by Sheila Keenan
Nelson Mandela: "No Easy Walk to Freedom" by Barry Denenberg
They Led the Way: Fourteen American Women by Johanna Johnston
Teaching guide written by Kylene Beers, Lecturer, Department of Library Science, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas.