Awards: Coretta Scott King Award Winner, 2002
Subject Area: Language Arts; Social Studies
Reading Level: 6.9
In this prequel to the award-winning Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, author Mildred Taylor tells the story of Paul-Edward Logan, a boy of mixed race who can pass for white, but is considered black. Paul-Edward grows up in relative privilege on his white father's Georgia plantation, but as he grows older he encounters the racist attitudes and violence of the outside world. His greatest desire is to own land of his own, although such a thing was unthinkable for a black man in the 1880s. But with the help of his friend Mitchell, he struggles against incredible odds to make his dream a reality — and truly becomes a man in the process.
Students will discuss historical aspects of The Land, specifically focusing on the setting in which the story takes place and the impact that this environment had upon the various characters.
Standard: Students will make inferences and draw conclusions about story elements (e.g., main and subordinate characters; events; setting; theme; missing details; relationships among story elements, such as the relevance of setting to mood and meaning in text).
Activate Prior Knowledge
Students may need to do some research in the library or on the Internet before attempting this activity. If your class is not familiar with this period of history, provide an overview as you introduce the book. Ask your students to briefly summarize the events of the American Civil War as a class. What were the causes of the war? What was the war's outcome? Once they have successfully given this background, ask students to share their knowledge of the Reconstruction Era in the South. In what ways did things change in the South after the Civil War?
Away Down South
The setting of The Land plays a major role in the novel; the title alone indicates that land is of great importance. Use the following questions to examine the various settings in which the story takes place (in Georgia, East Texas, and Mississippi).
- There are two particularly significant settings in The Land: the father's plantation, and the land Paul-Edward purchases in Mississippi. Describe both of these places in physical detail: the climate, the local plants and animals, the people living there. Then describe Paul-Edward's relationship with both of these settings. What emotions does he feel towards each place?
- What other settings does Paul-Edward encounter in the story? In what ways does he interact with these settings?
- Why is it important that the story is set in the Reconstruction Era South? What aspects of the book would change if the setting were moved to a different time or place?
Products of Their Environment?
In the South during the 1880s, there was a very definite code of racial behavior. Many of the characters in The Land are products of their environments, and we see their actions reflecting this racial code. Yet there are also characters that go above and beyond the expectations for behavior of their day to treat others with kindness and respect.
- Describe the "Jim Crow laws" and the racial inequalities of the South following the Civil War. What were the typical attitudes of white people towards black people, and black people towards white people during this time?
- In what ways is Paul-Edward caught in the middle of this racial code? Do you believe he benefits or suffers from his unusual status of being of mixed race?
- What are some examples of characters treating each other cruelly or unfairly because of this racial code of behavior? In each instance, is the character aware that his or her actions are unjust, or are they simply doing what they believe is right?
- In what ways does Paul-Edward's father conform to the racial code of the time? In what ways does he defy these conventions? Do you feel he is mainly a conformist or a non-conformist? (You may need to explain to your students the definition of the word conformist.) What about Paul-Edward's three white brothers?
- List some examples of characters in the story that rise above the expectations of the racial code. Why do you believe they choose to go against the conventional attitudes of their time?
Other Books to Compare/Contrast
To Kill A Mockingbird
By Harper Lee
Set in Alabama in the 1930s, this book presents a different perspective on the same themes of racism and prejudice in the South that also appear in The Land. Young Scout Finch comes of age during the summer that her lawyer father Atticus defends a black man named Tom Robinson; the trial reveals the prejudices and cruelties ingrained in the residents of their small town, as well as many examples of kindness and noble behavior.
By William H. Armstrong
Also set in the South in the 1900s, Sounder tells the story of a poor sharecropper family struggling to make ends meet. When the father steals a hog to feed his starving family, he is arrested and humiliated, and their dog Sounder is shot. With the father off in prison, the older son must take on the responsibility of caring for his family, as well as coming to terms with the ugly racism that surrounds him.
Other Books by Mildren D. Taylor
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
Let the Circle Be Unbroken
The Road to Memphis
Song of the Trees
The Well: David's Story
The Gold Cadillac: A Fancy New Car and an Unforgettable Drive
Teaching plan written by Beth Doty