I Gave My Heart To Know This by Ellen Baker


Discussion Questions

1. How does working at the shipyard change Grace’s perception of herself over time? How does it change Lena’s and Violet’s perceptions of themselves?

2. What do you think appeals to Grace about the three men in her life early in the book? How do their respective differences attract her or interest her, in their different ways?  What do you think she’s really looking for?

3. Although Jago is the gambler in the family, it’s Violet who typically thinks in terms of odds.   Why do you think she looks at things this way, and how does this worldview influence her actions?

4. Violet, an orphan, thinks she’s destroyed her family by holding it too tightly.   How do you think her definition of family changes over the course of her life?   How do other characters define family?   Did what happens to the family in the novel make you think differently about your own experiences with family?

5. Alice tells Grace that the whole family has been waiting for Derrick “all this time”; several of the characters believe throughout the novel that if only Derrick would come home, everything would be all right.   Where do you think this notion of his almost magical power comes from?   Do you think there’s any validity to the belief?   What effect do you think the idea of Derrick has on Joe?

6. Violet and Alice, without knowing each other, share a fear that they don’t understand the people around them.   Grace fears not understanding herself.   Lena, on the other hand, is certain she understands everything – but her certainty is as damaging as others’ uncertainty.   What do you think contributes to the lack of understanding among the characters?  Are there any two characters who you think have a good understanding of each other?   If so, how do they achieve and maintain it?

7. Why do you think so many of the characters fear telling one another the truth?   Of all the powerful secrets that are kept, which do you think is the most damaging to the family?

8. What do you think are the primary considerations for Grace in the decisions she makes? For Violet?   Do you think they’d have been happier if they’d made different decisions?   Or do they consider something other than happiness more important—and if so, what? Have you ever been faced with a decision where there was no possible happy outcome? What factors did you weigh to decide what to do?

9. Violet tells Julia and Danny that Lena “wasn’t bad” (page 238), but finally decides there’s no harm in letting everyone believe she was crazy.   What did you think of Lena and her choices?   Did your opinion change as the story went on?

10. What influence do you believe the farm had on the various characters and on what happened to the family?   What did Julia come to understand about the power of place and personal connections?

11. Much of what happens to the characters is a consequence of the time they’re living in and events beyond their control.   Discuss the ways in which the time one lives in can narrow – or widen – one’s choices and the amount of control one has over one’s life.  And how might these same characters—Grace, Violet, Lena—have behaved, if they lived in a different, more modern era?

12. Who, in the end, do you think gave his or her heart to know what?

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