“Exquisitely imagined, deeply researched . . . brings to the foreground the most enigmatic and fascinating figure in Gone with the Wind. This is a brave work of literary empathy by a writer at the height of his powers, who demonstrates a magisterial understanding of the period, its clashing cultures, and its heartbreaking crises. ” —Geraldine Brooks, author of March
The only authorized prequel to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind—the unforgettable story of Mammy. On a Caribbean island consumed by the flames of revolution, an infant girl falls under the care of two French émigrés, Henri and Solange Fournier, who take the beautiful child they call Ruth to the bustling American city of Savannah.
What follows is the sweeping tale of Ruth’s life as shaped first by her strong-willed mistress, and then by Solange’s daughter Ellen and Gerald O’Hara, the rough Irishman Ellen chooses to marry; the Butler family of Charleston and their unexpected connection to Mammy Ruth; and finally Scarlett O’Hara—the irrepressible Southern belle Mammy raises from birth. As we witness the lives of three generations of women, gifted storyteller Donald McCaig reveals a nuanced portrait of Mammy, at once a proud woman and a captive, a strict disciplinarian who has never experienced freedom herself. Through it all, Mammy endures, a rock in the river of time.
Set against the backdrop of the South from the 1820s until the dawn of the Civil War, here is a remarkable story of fortitude, heartbreak, and indomitable will—and a tale that will forever illuminate your reading of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind.
This reading group guide for Ruth’s Journey includes an introduction and discussion questions. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Long before Tara, Scarlett, and Rhett, before the war that would divide a nation . . . there was Ruth. Now it’s time to learn her story through Ruth’s Journey.
Authorized by the Margaret Mitchell Estate and written by New York Times bestselling author Donald McCaig, Ruth’s Journey brings magnificently to life one of the most beloved and intriguing characters in literature: Mammy from Gone with the Wind.
Set against the backdrop of the South from the 1820s until the dawn of the Civil War, here is a remarkable story of fortitude, heartbreak, and indomitable will—and a tale that will forever illuminate your reading of Margaret Mitchell’s unforgettable classic, Gone with the Wind.
TOPICS & QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. In Gone with the Wind, the character called Mammy has no other name; why do you think Donald McCaig decided to give her a different name in this book, and why did he choose the name Ruth in particular?
2. In what ways does Solange Fornier’s personality resemble that of her granddaughter Scarlett O’Hara? In what ways are their lives similar, too?
3. One of the most painful scenes in Ruth’s Journey takes place at a slave auction and shows a mother and child being separated when they are sold to different masters. After Ruth’s experiences at this auction, did you find it believable that she would come to be the devoted caretaker of baby Ellen and later of Ellen’s children? How was she changed by the events of that day?
4. Ruth frequently refers to “deportment” and judges those around her by how much of this quality they possess. What does she mean by the word and how was her understanding of it formed? Is Ruth generally a good judge of character?
5. What connection between Mammy and the Butler family is revealed in Ruth’s Journey? Does this revelation change the way you perceive Mammy’s feelings about Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind?
6. Jehu buys Ruth from Solange before he marries her, yet neglects to give Ruth her freedom when he can. He is her husband and her legal owner. What are the ramifications of this when Jehu is arrested? Why would Jehu not have emancipated Ruth when it was still possible to do so?
7. Gone with the Wind was published in 1936 and its portrait of slavery and its African-American characters are reflections of the commonly held beliefs of that time. Does Ruth’s Journey present a more nuanced understanding of the reality of slavery? Do you think this novel is faithful to the spirit of Gone with the Wind? Or in telling Mammy’s story and giving her a name and a voice, does it challenge some of the assumptions of that novel? Why?
8. Novelist Geraldine Brooks praised Ruth’s Journey, calling it “exquisitely imagined” and “deeply researched” and saying that McCaig brought “to the foreground the most enigmatic and fascinating figure in Gone with the Wind.” Did reading Ruth’s Journey change the way you viewed Gone with the Wind? In what ways?
9. McCaig begins his novel with two epigraphs, one from Gone with the Wind and one from The Book of Ruth. Did the epigraphs inform your reading of the novel? In what ways?
Donald McCaig is the award-winning author of Canaan as well as Jacob’s Ladder, designated “the best Civil War novel ever written” by the Virginia Quarterly. It won the Michael Shaara Award for Excellence in Civil War Fiction and the Library of Virginia Award for Fiction. He was chosen by the Margaret Mitchell estate to write Rhett Butler’s People, an authorized sequel to Gone with the Wind. He lives on a sheep farm in the mountains near Williamsville, Virginia, where he writes fiction, essays, and poetry, and trains and trials sheep dogs.