The Last Days of Dogtown
Set on the high ground at the heart of Cape Ann, the village of Dogtown is peopled by widows, orphans, spinsters, scoundrels, whores, free Africans, and “witches.” Among the inhabitants of this hamlet are Black Ruth, who dresses as a man and works as a stonemason; Mrs. Stanley, an imperious madam whose grandson, Sammy, comes of age in her brothel; Oliver Younger, who survives a miserable childhood at the hands of his aunt; and Cornelius Finson, a freed slave. At the center of it all is Judy Rhines, a fiercely independent soul, deeply lonely, who nonetheless builds a life for herself against all imaginable odds.
Rendered in stunning, haunting detail, with Anita Diamant’s keen ear for language and profound compassion for her characters, The Last Days of Dogtown is an extraordinary retelling of a long-forgotten chapter of early American life.
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Reading Group Guide
By Anita Diamant
1. Diamant explains in her Author's Note that, though Dogtown was a real village, her stories are woven from the thinnest of historical threads. Does the novel feel authentic to you nonetheless? Why or why not? What things has Diamant done to bring this New England ghost town back to life?
2. On page 20, we learn of the relationship between Cornelius and Judy. Discuss their situation. Do you sympathize with Cornelius' fear? Or do you think he unfairly abandoned Judy?
3. Ruth speaks little and reveals less. What can we tell about her through her relationship with Easter, and what is the significance of Ruth's identifying Easter with Mimba?
4. What sorts of things do the women of Dogtown do to demonstrate their independence? Consider Easter, Ruth, Judy, Molly, and Sally, for example.
5. Discuss the many "forbidden loves" that occur in The Last Days of Dogtown, such as Cornelius and Judy, and Sally and Molly. Why are each "forbidden" and how does their impossibility influence each situation?
6. On pages 195-196, Oliver struggles with a feeling of unease over the suspicion that Cornelius and Judy may have had a love affair. Discuss what, exactly, Oliver means by "the African question." Do you think Oliver's disgust has as much to do with Cornelius' race as it does with the fact that he once had a boyhood crush on Judy himself?
7. How does the last g see more