Discussion Questions

  1. The meaning and impact of the title of the novel, The Price of a Child,float over and through the narrative. Contrast the significance of those words for Mercer Gray with their significance for Jackson Pryor.
  2. In the narrative, we learn how freedom allows Mercer to change and grow. What was the cost of escaped slaves' freedom?
  3. What do you believe was the author's intent in introducing so many characters in the beginning chapters of the novel?
  4. Lines from the Gingerbread Man and other rhyming phrases are found throughout the novel. What significance do they play in the overall story?
  5. Throughout the novel, Mercer limits the expression of her thoughts and feelings, often engaging in internal dialogues that are radically different from her spoken words. Share examples of situations in which she feels pressured to hide her inner responses.
  6. The author intersperses real and fictional people and events in this novel. What effect does this have on the overall narrative?
  7. One of the most underestimated characters in the book is Wilfred, nicknamed Nig-Nag, who suffers from the still misunderstood condition, Tourette Syndrome. How does this condition, as well as people's lack of understanding of it, affect his life?
  8. What techniques does the author use to create the feel of the 19th century?
  9. How does the description of Philadelphia in chapter four, Mercy, compare to present day Philadelphia? How does it compare to Zilpha's home and lifestyle in West Chester? How do the settings in this novel provide protection for Mercer?
  10. "In future years, Ginnie would remember how protected she'd felt that day, surrounded by the Quicks and the headstones and the other picnicking family across the green lawn at Olive Cemetery." Why do you think the author selected this location as the place where Ginnie had her first meeting with the Quicks?
  11. Although Blanche was never a slave, her life was one of bondage. Considering her life, discuss why freedom and equality were out of the grasp of many women living in 1855.
  12. Explain the author's meaning when she refers to the "many groups that abhorred slavery but cared little for equality."
  13. What were the State and Federal laws at war behind the court case in which Mercer appeared?
  14. What were the factors that made her testifying in court so troubling to her?
  15. At the conclusion of Wayland Silver's lecture in Chapter Ten, Mercer feels that she knows what Tyree had wanted her to learn. Considering the content of Silver's talk and the character of Tyree, what do you think that was? How did it influence the content of her speeches? How did becoming a public speaker force Mercer to grow and change?
  16. How did Mercer and Tyree benefit from their relationship? Was Tyree's final decision appropriate to his character?
  17. "A man who won't die for something is not fit to live." - Martin Luther King, Jr. The white abolitionists and the African Americans assisting Mercer, as well as Mercer herself, all incurred risks from their decisions to oppose slavery. How were the risks similar and different for those two groups who chose to resist injustice? Consider for yourself the circumstances in which you would take risks for the sake of a moral issue. Do you agree with Dr. King's sentiments expressed above?
  18. "Had white America really believed in its egalitarian declarations, it would have welcomed former slaves into its midst at the close of the Civil War. Indeed, had that happened, America would not be two racial nations today." - Andrew Hacker, Professor of Political Science, Queens College
    How does Ms. Cary illustrate this historical phenomenon in her portrayal of the abolitionist movement?
  19. "Certainly it was no accident that slavery was the major moral issue the signers of the Declaration [of Independence] failed to address when they proclaimed liberty, equality, and justice for all, and went home to oversee their slaves. Just as it is no accident that our public dialogue on race today is more a monologue of frustration and rage." - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 1996
    Why is it important for Americans to learn the history of racism in America? What lessons about our collective past are taught in Ms. Cary's book? What can these lessons teach us about ourselves as a nation today?