For our first Nonfiction Book Club discussion, I’ll be directing you over to Lory at The Emerald City Book Review. As I mentioned in the announcement, she kindly offered to co-host the Mayflower discussion as part of her Reading New England challenge. For the first part of the discussion, please share your answers to the questions in the link-up or comments over at her blog. I’ll answer the questions below, but will be linking up at Lory’s post as well.
1 What was your previous understanding of the Pilgrims’ journey and landing in North America? Did Philbrick’s presentation change or amplify anything for you?
Mine was almost exactly as the author describes in the quote you share in the next question! I’d heard the story about the Native Americans helping the pilgrims and then all celebrating Thanksgiving together. I’d also heard that this story was dreadfully wrong and that the pilgrims stole from and killed the Native Americans, despite their willingness to make peace. One thing the book amplified for me was the difficulty of the journey and of establishing a settlement. I had no idea the attrition rate among the Pilgrims was so high!
2 In his preface, Philbrick states that his initial impression of the period was “bounded by two conflicting preconceptions: the time-honored tradition of how the Pilgrims came to symbolize all that is good about America and the now equally familiar modern tale of how the evil Europeans annihilated the innocent Native Americans,” but that he found that the reality was less predictable than that. Given that we’re only talking about the first half so far, have you found him successful in conveying a more complex view?
Definitely! As is often the case, I only looked to the back for citations as began writing my answers to the discussion questions. They look very thorough, but I still need to read through them to decide if the author seems reliable. Based on just the text, however, I’m very impressed by his attempts to convey the good, the bad, the altruistic, and the amoral decisions made by both sides. Both the Native Americans and the Pilgrims as a group, as well as a handful of individuals, come across as having the complex motivations I’d expect from real people. For instance, the Pilgrims’ decisions to steal from, recompense, ally with, or kill the Native Americans seem to be made on the basis of personal preference and complex political machinations. The reverse seems to be true as well.
3 Do you think that any characteristics or concerns of the Pilgrims still persist in our national character today? How do you see these manifesting?
The conflict between people who were more or less religious particularly jumps out at me. I actually hadn’t realized that there were colonists with different religious beliefs. I also wouldn’t have guessed that the Pilgrims believed they were right more than they believed in religious freedom. This is something I still see in our society today though, as many people make or support laws based on their own religious beliefs. Interestingly, racial divides aren’t something that has stood out to me as a decisive factor in the events described so far.
4 The Pilgrims’ relationship with the Native Americans, and specifically with Massasoit, was crucial to their survival. What stood out for you in this aspect of the narrative? Were there any surprises, or anything particularly interesting or disturbing?
I found the pilgrims’ murder of the men planning to attack them particularly disturbing. It sounds as though they were right to expect betrayal, but the nasty, dishonorable way they went about dealing with it shocked me. The Native Americans they attacked were generally taken by surprise and it doesn’t sound as though they were particularly discriminating about who they killed.
5 Do you think the title “Mayflower” fits the book so far? If not, would you have a different title to suggest?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the majority of this book isn’t about the Pilgrim’s time on the Mayflower. I would, instead, have called the book Plymouth. I think it would more accurately describe the setting of most of the book and like Mayflower, it would convey immediately that the book was about the Pilgrims.