1. The novel begins as Penelope climbs up out of the damp, foul smelling hold of a seventeenth century sailing vessel onto the deck at sunrise on the Atlantic Ocean. The novel ends at sunrise as Penelope leaves the Sanhican birthing lodge to go to Richard in their new log home. Why do the authors frame the story in this way?
2. As the story unfolds we learn that Penelope is a minister’s daughter. What do we know about her faith at the beginning of the story? How does Wouter’s accident reveal the limitations of Penelope’s character? Penelope’s faith is tested throughout the novel. When she witnesses her husband’s murder, what does she ask God? Then when she faces the Maqua who is about to attack her, where does she find the strength to fight back? After Penelope has escaped one problem only to run into another, what does she imagine might be pursuing her? Cite other episodes that cause her to fear God has forsaken her, and then describe those that show her regaining her trust. How has her ordeal strengthened her character and faith?
3. Eagle Feather and his son Talon rescue Penelope after the Maquas have left her for dead. How do their actions and those of Bluebird, Dogwood, and other members of the extended Sanhican family show the humanity of the Lenni Lenape? While living among the Sanhicans, Penelope has to adjust to their customs. Which adjustments were embarrassing? Which ones were frightening? Which one filled her with shame? Which ones were comforting? How does her growing understanding of these people contrast with that of Governor Kief and other Europeans like Anna Schermerhorn whose attitude toward Native Americans was barbaric?
4. After Penelope has settled into life with the Sanhicans, she becomes ill. What does she fear has happened to her? Why does she dismiss the idea that she might be pregnant? Who convinces her she is pregnant. What is her reaction to the realization that she is pregnant?
5. After Penelope leaves the Sanhicans to visit Fort Amsterdam, which characters accuse her of carrying a Maqua child? How does she react to their accusations? Who does Penelope first tell about her fears after she leaves Fort Amsterdam? Who does she tell next? Who does she tell after that? Each person reacts differently. Compare and contrast their reactions.
6. Richard’s love for Penelope develops throughout the story. When he first proposes to Penelope, what is the basis for his love? Before he proposed to her, he left her twice. Was he justified in leaving her those times? When was Penelope afraid he would leave her a third time? Why does Richard respond to her fear of carrying a Maqua child by saying, “Why does everything always go wrong?” Richard is a quiet, thoughtful character, not often revealing his feelings. When do we discover that his love for her continued to grow throughout the story?
7. Both Richard and Penelope can be deadly. Why is Richard so upset about the execution of the Maqua captive? Because he killed another Maqua by himself, isn’t he being a hypocrite? Is his decision to leave Penelope after the execution reasonable?
8. The setting of the wilderness, especially the forest, becomes almost like a character. What role does the setting play in this story? The setting and everything in it are described with vivid sense impressions. Which ones do you remember most? How does the color red unify the novel?
9. Wouter was a remarkable man and the first love of Penelope’s life. After his death sights, sounds, and smells remind Penelope of him. Which ones do you remember most? When do her memories of Wouter bring her strength? When does she worry his spirit will be angry with her?
10. Penelope and Wouter brought four calves with them from the Netherlands. Why do they bring a mixture of joy and sorrow to Penelope? How and when do they create comic relief?
11. Reverend Hornwyck is one of several villains in the novel. Why do you love to hate him? Why is he so despicable? Explain how he is a foil to almost every male character in the book? What ploys does he use to try to manipulate Penelope? How does he try to frighten her so that she’ll give in to him? What would Penelope’s life have been like if in a moment of weakness when she was trying to protect her unborn child, she had married Hornwyck? Describe what you know of him as a husband and a father. What is his attitude toward all women?
12. Reverend Hornwyck continually blows his own horn, telling Penelope how powerful he is, yet we know he is a coward. Cite examples of his fear. How does Penelope frighten him, first to keep him at a safe distance and then to get rid of him? What is ironic about his reason for believing God has chosen him to be the “Paul” of the New World?
13. Penelope met Anna Schermerhorn while escaping from Hornwyck’s house. How is she like Reverend Hornwyck and how does she represent the worst of Fort Amsterdam? How do we know all the people of Fort Amsterdam are not like Anna and the Reverend?
14. Penelope meets a Jesuit Priest, Father Jacques, after leaving the tavern where the citizens of Fort Amsterdam are in an uproar over Governor Kief’s actions. How does Father Jacques provide comic relief at a time when Penelope is frightened? How do his personality and his presence calm her and help her see a course of action? Throughout the story Father Jacques brings comfort to a troubled Penelope. Cite examples where he helps her gain confidence and trust God? How does he explain his one moment of violence? How does that episode become an ironic twist of comic relief? How is his attitude toward the Native Americans so different from Reverend Hornwyck’s?
15. Penelope meets three African women who had been captured by pirates and sold to Reverend Hornwyck as slaves. Nana, the oldest of these sisters, becomes Penelope’s close friend, too. What advice does Nana give Penelope? Why does Penelope wish her relationship with Richard was similar to Tom and Nana’s? How does Penelope become more like Nana as the story progresses?
16. When Richard first proposed to Penelope, she realized his guilt from leaving her twice motivated him not his love for her because he hardly knew her. What events caused her to gradually fall in love with him?
17. The underlining theme of Penelope’s commitment to Wouter even after he has been slain permeates the novel. Even though her love for Wouter remains steady, how does she find the resolve to begin a new, guilt-free, life with Richard?
18. If Penelope had given birth to a Maqua child, how would it have changed her life?
19. The lark is a unifying symbol throughout the novel. Why is the lark important to Penelope and how does the lark inspire her? How does the French myth of the lark parallel her actions in this book?
20. How are Penelope’s seventeenth century struggles similar to those we face today?
© James and Marion Applegate 2008