Reading guide for The Green Age of Asher Witherow by M. Allen Cunningham

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The Green Age of Asher Witherow

by M. Allen Cunningham

The Green Age of Asher Witherow
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2004, 288 pages
    Oct 2005, 288 pages

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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. Setting is so central to The Green Age of Asher Witherow that it almost becomes a character. Why is the natural landscape of the Diablo Valley so important, especially to the younger characters in the novel?

  2. Several myths, legends and systems of belief are mentioned in the novel. There is the traditional Protestant Christianity of Reverend Parry and the Nortonville residents; there is Josiah Lyte's own unique version of Christianity; there is the Hinduism that influences him during his childhood in India; there are the Native American legends of Indian tribes that first named the mountain and the Celtic myths and stories of Asher's Welsh ancestors. Do these "underpinnings" make the events of the story clearer or more puzzling to you?

  3. Sarah Norton is a disturbing character in the novel. As a midwife (and, in Anna's case, an abortionist), she is suspected by some people in Nortonville of being a witch. She lives alone, apart from her husband, and her solitary activities include gathering Indian artifacts and planting a new cottonwood tree for each child she delivers. Why do you think the author "drew" her this way?

  4. The coal miners of Nortonville are a proud people. What seems to be the nature of that pride, and what are its main sources?

  5. Asher's mother, Abicca, is among the many citizens of Nortonville who believe the young minister, Josiah Lyte, is ungodly and dangerous (though her repeated attempts to keep Asher away from him fail). But in his conversations with Asher, Lyte doesn't seem so much dangerous as different. In your opinion, does Josiah Lyte pose a real threat to the town?

  6. Why is Josiah Lyte so interested in Asher? Is it simply because the boy is a gifted student, or is there more to it than that? When Asher tells Lyte that he killed Thomas Motion, why does Lyte refuse to tell anyone?

  7. Thomas Motion teaches Asher to see in the dark. It is an ability that Asher must struggle to learn. This ability abandons both Asher and Thomas once they are underground (which leads to Thomas's death). Why can't they see in the dark there? Later, Asher discovers that Anna Flood can also see in the dark. Why do you think she already has this gift?

  8. What draws Asher to Anna Flood? Why is Anna so certain from the start that they will be friends? How do the events of the story cause their relationship to develop and change?

  9. The Green Age of Asher Witherow is a historical novel, with many realistic details of nineteenth-century California and the mining town of Nortonville. Yet certain elements of the story are more magical than real: the young characters' ability to see in the dark; the flowers Asher sees sprouting from frozen ground at several funerals; the mysterious characters of Josiah Lyte and Sarah Norton. Why do you think the author chose to include these elements of magic and mystery?

  10. The elder Asher gives us hints about how his life proceeded between the time Nortonville's mining industry declined and he left the town until the present time (1950) when he is writing his story. What do you imagine may have happened to him in the years in between? What do you think has driven him to write the story of his early years in Nortonville?

Suggested Reading
D.H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers
Richard Llewellyn, How Green Was My Valley
Tawni O'Dell, Coal Run
John Steinbeck, East of Eden
William Faulkner, Light in August
Charles Frazier, Cold Mountain
Donald Harington, With
Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon
Kiki Delancey, Coal Miners' Holiday
Russell Freedman, Kids at Work: Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor
Barbara Freese, Coal: A Human History

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Unbridled Books. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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