Study Guide

Lila is a novel about memory and the way we assemble our identity. So the time and setting of this novel will jump about as Lila recalls different moments from her life. Her story may be very different from our own, but we all face the same challenge. Lila is striving to put herself together, to create a story about herself in which she deserves happiness. Will she be successful? What obstacles must she overcome? How must she come to terms with her memories of the people who were closest to her?

Where does her story begin?

Section One (pp. 3-7)
  • Why has the little girl been left out on the stoop at night? (How old is she?)
  • Who lives in that house? (Does the little girl's family live there?)
  • Who are her only playmates?
  • Who is Doll, the woman who picks her up that night and wraps her in a shawl?
  • What presents has Doll given the little girl in the past?
  • What does Doll decide to do with the little girl that very night?
  • What does the little girl remember from that night in the rain?
  • Where does Doll take her the next morning?
  • What does the old woman tell Doll to do with the little girl? How does Doll reply?
  • What shape is the little girl in?
  • What language comes out of her mouth when Doll and the old woman bathe her?
Section Two (pp. 7-8)
  • Why has this old woman decided to help Doll and the little girl?
  • How do Doll and the old woman keep the little girl alive? (7-8)
Section Three (pp. 9-10)
  • How long do Doll and the little girl stay with the old woman?
  • As she begins to regain her strength, the little girl works with Doll in the old woman's garden.
    What does she remember from these first moments of gardening?
  • Why does the little girl want to go back to the house from which Doll rescued her?
  • What is wrong with the little girl's hand?
  • Who names the little girl Lila? (What does Doll say about naming her?) (10)
Stop for a moment:
  • How will Lila remember the earliest times of her childhood?
  • What are your own earliest memories?
  • How essential are these memories to our own development?
Section Four (p.10)
  • Why are Doll and Lila forced to leave the old woman's house?
  • With whom do they try to join up on the road?
  • Name the folk who belong to this group?
Section Five (pp. 10-13)
  • Lila's mind jumps to a moment when she asked her new husband Rev. Ames how to spell 'Doane'.
    (How old is Lila now?)
  • Why does Rev. Ames blush when Lila tells him that she once knew a man named 'Doane'?
  • Describe Lila's memory of the moment she and Rev. Ames first met.
  • Where does Lila's mind travel while she watches Rev. Ames baptise a crying baby?
  • Next, Lila's mind travels to the moment when Mellie called Lila an orphan. (How old was Lila then?)
    Describe Mellie as Lila remembers her.
  • Why had Lila stopped talking for so long when she was first with Doll?
Section Six (pp. 13-15)
  • What were the first weeks with Doane's people like for Doll and Lila? (13)
  • What secrets did Doll and Lila keep from the others in the group? (13)
  • When were they allowed to officially join the group ?
  • What year did they join up with Doane's people (if that happened eight years before the Crash)?
  • Take a guess as to which year Doll took Lila to town so that she could go to school for a year. 
  • When, before "the Crash", did the bad times start for Doane's people?
Section Seven (pp, 15-16)
  • What did Lila understand about "the Crash"?
  • What had life on the road been like for Lila before things began to go bad? 
Stop again:
  • Where should Lila put these memories from her childhood as she begins a relationship with a man
    who has lived a life far different from her own?
  • As you read the following key section of the story, try to follow Lila's mind as her memories jump from time to time in her life. What obstacles must she overcome if she is to have a happy relationship with Rev. Ames?
Section Eight (pp. 16-26)
  • Lila's mind jumps forward in time to the day she first started gardening in Rev. Ames' yard (1947), and then her mind moves to the time when she gave their little son a carrot to eat (1956), just as Doll had once given her from the garden at the old woman's cabin when she was little (1926) (see gardening). What connects these thoughts in Lila's mind? (Robinson asks a lot of her reader, but that is the way our minds work.)
  • What does Lila dream of doing some day with her little boy? Why?
  • Why won't she tell  Rev. Ames of these thoughts? (Notice the way that Lila has conversations with Rev. Ames in her imagination. How accurate do you think her assumptions are? Do you engage in similar mental conversations with significant people in your life?) 
  • Lila remembers the first time she went to a church meeting when baptism classes were taught. What happened to her that day? (Why does kindness make her angry?) (18)
  • Lila's thinking then jumps to a time after she and Rev. Ames had become engaged, and she first met Rev. Boughton , rev. Ames' best friend. What was Lila's first impression of Ames' friend, Rev. Boughton? Why doesn't she like his joke?
  • How does Lila remember the moment when she first began to realize that she might be pregnant? (How did she first learn about the facts of life?) (19)
  • What upsets Lila when she hears Boughton's comment about the lost souls in China? What does Rev. Ames think about the issue? Why does that upset Lila? (21)
  • Describe the place next to the river that Lila likes to go to when she wants to be alone. 
  • What does she do at the river that Sunday instead of going to church? Why? (21-22) What did Doane's people think about their souls? What upsets her about Rev. Ames' religion?
  • When she returns to Rev. Ames' house, Lila puts on the blue dress he bought for her out of the Sears and Roebuck catalog, and Lila thinks of what happened to her in St. Louis. What was that? 
  • Where is Lila when Rev. Ames returns from church that day? What does she tell him? How does he respond? (23-24)
  • What had Rev. Ames thought that morning when he saw that Lila had left her wedding ring on the kitchen counter? What does he make her promise never to do? (25)
  • Even though Rev Ames tries to reassure her that he loves her, Lila still thinks that she might have made up the pregnancy just to manipulate him. Why does she think that?
 Stop: The action of a great work of literature follows the journey the central character must take in pursuit of a key objective:
  • What is Lila's objective in the action of this novel?
  • What obstacles must she overcome?
  • What must she do to overcome those obstacles?
Study Guide 2

Section Nine (pp. 26-68)
  • How did Lila wind up in Gilead? 
  • Describe her life in that old cabin back in the woods. (27) Why did she stay there? How long did Lila plan to stay in Gilead?
  • How does she remember meeting Rev. Ames for the first time now? What made her walk into town that day? Why did she go back to the church? (27-28)
  • Why did Lila go to his house? What did she want to ask him? (28)
  • What do we learn about Rev. Ames' childhood from the stories he tells Lila that day as they sit in the kitchen drinking coffee. Why do you figure that Rev. Ames tells Lila about his family's tragedy? (29-30)
  • Why won't Lila tell Rev. Ames her story (even as she remembers her secret with Doll)? (30)
  • What question has she come to ask him? How does he respond? (31)
  • How do members of Rev. Ames' congregation start to treat Lila after that visit? Why is Lila suspicious of the charity she receives from his parishioners? Why does she decide to stay in Gilead? (Why does she steal a Bible?) (31-32)
  • How does Lila learn of Rev. Ames dead wife and child? When did they die? (32)
  • What does Lila think about as she prunes the roses at his wife's grave? (What is written on Mrs. Ames' gravestone?) (32-33)
  • When Rev. Ames tells Lila that he would like to speak with her again, she thinks of her plain looks and her time in St. Louis. What happened to Lila in St. Louis? What has happened to her in the past when she let herself care about someone? (34)
  • Even though Lila swears she is not getting religion, she is getting into the habit of imagining conversations with Rev. Ames about life questions. How is just thinking about talking with Rev. Ames changing Lila? (34)
  • What made Lila decide to get baptised? What happened to Lila when she went to the church for baptism class? (This is the second time she has thought about this event.) (34-35)
  • What is the purpose of Baptism in the Christian faith in general and the Congregational Church in particular?
  • When Lila opens the bible she has stolen from the church to a random page, it opens on Ezekiel 16, and she is struck by this verse: In the day thou wast born thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to 'cleanse thee ... No eye pitied thee.  I passed by thee, and saw thee weltering in thy blood. How does Lila relate this verse to her own life? (36-37)
  • That night Lila goes to the river to bathe and tries to remember her mother. What can she recall? (37-38)
  • She thinks too of Rev. Ames' wife and how she had just 'slipped away' during childbirth. Then Lila remembers the time that her friend Mellie, who was never scared, had climbed up on the back of a bull, and she thinks of asking the Reverend, "What could the old man say about all those people born with more courage than they could find a way to spend, and then there was nothing to do with it but just get by?" Later she asks, "And where would a girl like that find any kind of life that asked more of her than just standing up to hardship? Something an animal could do better, a mule." (39)   How would Rev. Ames answer that question? What would Doll have told her?
  • How does Lila respond when Mrs. Graham offers her two of her daughter's dresses? Why won't she say, "Thank you"? (40)
  • The weather starts to change, and Lila realizes that she will not be able to stay in her shack much longer. Then she thinks of that time when she had lived in a nice house. How long did Lila get to go to school in Tammany, Iowa? What did she learn?  (What did her teacher say about her?)
  • Why did they leave so abruptly? Explain why leaving abruptlyallows Doll and Lila to express their 'pride'. (41)
  • To practice her writing, Lila buys a notebook and pencil and then she copies out verses from Ezekiel 16 again. Why are those verses so important to her? 
Stop: How might reading passages from the Bible help Lila make sense of her life?
  • In a lovely passage, Lila describes the morning at her cabin. Can you understand why Lila so loves being alone? How has Robinson been influenced by Thoreau? (43)
  • What kind of games would Lila and Mellie play when Doane's people stayed at the workers' camp?
  • What stories from her life on the road does she thnk she might share with Rev. Ames?
  • How was her life with Doane's people before the Crash? What verses from the Bible does she associate with these times? 
  • How did Lila get her last name 'Dawl'?  What verse from the Bible does Lila associate with her name? (45-46)
  • Why did Doane's people like to avoid townspeople? What did they hate most about them? How did Doane and Doll explain to Lila just what kind of people they were? How does remembering Doll's pride make her feel about the people of Gilead and the old Reverend? (47)
  • So, Lila decides to take a job at one of the farmsteads way out in the country near her shack. With whom does Lila find work? What do they give her? (48)
  • What happens when Doll walks by the church in town wearing her new red blouse the next day; how does Rev. Ames react when he sees her? How does Lila explain to herself what she feels? What did Doll teach her about men? So, Lila buys a pack of Camel cigarettes and walks down the road hoping a townsperson will see her. (49-51)
  • As she is working through her feelings for Rev.Ames, Lila remembers a time long ago when Doll left her alone for the first time? Why did Doll leave? What did Doane and Mellie do after Doll had been gone for three days? (51-52)
  • What is Lila terrified of as she sits on that church stoop? How did Lila respond when Doll finally found her there late that night?
  • Who does Lila hear in the brush outside her cabin as she thnks about that moment in her past? What does she grab to use to defend herself? (54-55) (Doll's Knife) Holding the knife, Lila remembers how Doane could act mean when there was a stranger with them whom he didn't trust, particularly after times started to go bad.
  • Lila thinks about being mean to Rev. Ames for sneaking up on her. how could she do that? Why doesn't she follow through? What does she do instead the next morning? (56-57)
  • How does Rev. Ames react when Lila suddenly hugs him in his garden the next morning? How does he respond? (56-58)
Stop: Did Lila intend to hug Rev. Ames when she came to town that morning? Where did her action come from?
  • What is Lila thinking as she and Rev. Ames exchange awkward words while sitting on the proch waiting for the rain to stop? (59)
  • How does Rev. Ames react when Lila tells him that she knows it was he who had come out to her cabin the night before? (58-59)
  • How does he respond when she asks him the point of prayer? (59-61)
  • What does Lila take with her when she rushes off?
  • On her walk back to her cabin, Lila thinks of a story she would like to tell Rev. Ames about a camp meeting she attended while she was lving with Doane's people. What happened that day? (61-66)
  • What did Mellie do when she snuck away from the others? What does Doane think? How does Lila think she will feel if she ever gets baptized?
Section Ten (pp. 68-70)
  • How does Lila use the image of the four headed angel described in the first chapter of Ezekiel to make sense of her own identity? (68)
  • Then Lila thinks again of when Doll abandoned her. (What is the connection with the angel from Ezekiel?) How did that experience change the relationship between Lila and Doll? Why did Doll leave her? Where did she go? (69)  (She has thought about this moment before.) (51-52)
  • What did Doane do to Doll's shawl after she and Lila caught up with his people and found their campfire? (69-70)
Stop: What does the burning of Doll's shawl signify in the evolving story of Lila's life?

Study Guide 3

Section Eleven (pp. 70-90)
  • Why won't Lila go into Mrs. Graham's parlor? (What does it remind her of?) (70)
  • How does Lila respond when Mrs. Graham offers her a waterproof coat? (71) Why does she think of leaving  Gilead?
  • What prayer does she say while working in Rev. Ames' garden? (Has Lila ever prayed before?) (71)
  • When Rev. Ames hands her his note, what memory does it trigger in Lila? (72) Why wouldn't Doll allow Lila to go to school for a second year? (72)
  • As Lila wonders what Rev. Ames may have said  in his note, her mind wanders to St. Louis again. What did she learn about 'hoping' from the girls there? (73)
  • The next morning, Lila sits on her stoop and reads Rev. Ames' note. In it he tells her that he really does think about existence sometimes and he does not just recite scripture by rote. Lila puts the note down and reads another line from Ezekiel. She  wonders if the reverend knows how strange her life really has been. All of his preaching and praying doesn't effect the waking, sleeping, weariness and lonliness of her existence. (74-75)
  • When Lila thinks about a real relationship between a man and a woman, she thinks of Marcelle with Doane. What was their relationship like? How did it change when times got hard? Does she believe that relationships are even necessary to existence? She must admit they do when she imagines what it felt like for the reverend to baptize those babies. (75-76)
  • Lila then reads the rest of Rev. Ames' note. In it he tries to explain to her how he has found meaning in life through faith. How does he liken  faith to a father (God) holding his hands out to a toddler just learning to walk. What does he mean? (76-77) How does he explain the existence of poverty and suffering in the world? (77)
  • Lila is not sure how to respond to this letter, so she just decides to go to work at the old couple's house. Afterwards, she goes to the river and washes her clothes. In one of the novel's most beautuful passages, she describes the way her dress (self? soul?) takes various shapes in the river current and then others while drying in the wind. What bible story does it make her recall? 
  • After thinking it through, Lila decides she must risk trusting Rev. Ames. (78) What does she decide to ask him to do for her? (79)
  • After working at Mrs. Graham's home, Lila walks into town to go to the store, and when she passes the church, Rev. Ames is there. He comes out to walk and talk with her. As they discuss whether she should be baptized, what suddenly pops out of her mouth? How does he respond? (79-81)
  • As she walks away, what does Lila think of what she has just said? What does she decide to do the very next day with the forty-five dollars she has saved that summer? (81-82)
  • Even so, Lila decides instead to go fishing at the river the next morning, and she brings her bible along. She copies again those verses about the four-faced angel from Ezekiel? How does Lila connect this passage to her thoughts about her own face? (82) (What happened when Rev. Ames saw her face for the first time?)
  • After tearing Rev. Ames' letter in half and vowing to burn it with his sweater, Lila catches a catfish and is carrying it back to the shack when she sees Rev. Ames waiting for her. What has Rev. Ames come to give her? (84)
  • When she tells him, "I don't think we better do this," how does Rev. Ames react? (86)
  • What does he tell her when she says during the baptism that Lila Dahl is not her name? When Rev. Ames touches her head, what happens? (88)
  • How can you tell that there are still huge obstacles must this couple overcome in order to make this relationship work? Rev.Ames tells her he is too old for her. They both claim they cannot trust each other. Lila blurts out that she worked in a whorehouse in St.Louis and worse, "I done other things." (How does he respond?) (90)
Section Twelve (pp. 90-93)
  • Rev. Ames rents a room at the hotel for Lila to stay in during their engagement. He decides they should wait a month before marrying. Why? Why does Lila hate the hotel?  When she wanders out to the shack, she finds that the Boughtons have taken all of her possessions to Rev. Ames house. How does she react? 
  • When Lila goes up to the cemetery to tend the roses at the graves of Mrs. Ames and her baby, she wonders about how she will fit into the family when they she meets the first wife of Rev. Ames resurrected in eternity? (What does she imagine Doll telling her when they are reunited?)
  • Why is everyone at the dinner table embarrassed when Lila invites Rev. Ames upstairs to see her room? What other proprieties must the engaged couple observe?
  • Where are they married?
Section Thirteen (pp. 93-102)
  • At the wedding reception Lila watches the Boughton children decorate the wedding cake with frosting. What does she think about as she watches them?
  • What have the people in Rev. Ames' congregation done to prepare his home for the new couple's arrival?
  • Why, then, do Lila and Rev. Ames still feel so ashamed when they are finally alone together?
  • When Rev. Ames exclaims, "Dear, Lila, we're married. For better or worse!, she replies, "I spose so. We'll see about that." and then she immediately feels guilty. Why can't she trust him? (Why does she decide to sleep with him that night?) (95-96)
  • Lila imagines meeting Doll on the road again, resurrected, and Lila tells her that she is married and living in a good house. How does she imagine Doll responding? (96)
  • Only then, Lila's thoughts travel to the day Doll and she abruptly left Tammany and fled through the woods, not on the road. She then remembers the red scar on Doll's face. Why did they flee? What has Doll done? (Lila has never mentioned this scar before? Why now?) (97)
  • Lila imagines that she is stealing this life with Rev. Ames to please Doll. Is she being truthful with herself? (97)
  • Lila's thoughts return to that afternoon at the Boughtons when the reverend got on the topic of how the unbaptised are damned. (Remember when Lila thought of this memory before. (See Boughton's comment about the lost souls in China and how upset Lila became? (21)) This time, though, Lila goes deeper. At this moment, she thinks of the moment when Doll gave her the knife? What dark crime is Lila afraid that Doll has committed? Why has Lila not thought of this detail before? (97-98)
  • That night after the visit to the Boughtons, Rev. Ames can tell that Lila is upset. She tells him that she knew a woman with a knife who might have killed a man. And adultery was what all the girls in St. Louis were up to. None had ever observed the Sabbath. How does Rev. Ames try to comfort her? Does Lila buy it? (98-99) (Dostoevsky)
  • The night before she goes to the river to un-baptize herself, Lila thinks of the moment that Rev. Ames baptised her. (100)
  • For a while Lila had liked the idea of resurrection if it meant seeing Doll again, but now when she thinks of the Day of Judgment, she fears what will happen to Doll? What sins has Doll committed? What sins did they all commit when the hard times came? (100-01)
  • How does Rev. Ames try to comfort her? What is his own opinion of 'hell'? (101)
Section Fourteen (pp. 102-104)
  • That night in bed, Lila tells him that he doesn't have to worry about hell because he and most everyone he knows will be going to heaven while she is going to hell.. How does he respond? (102)
  • She wonders whether Rev. Ames would have loved any of the people she has loved if they actually show up at the door of the reverend's home. And she remembers awakening from deep sleep among Doane's people? (102-03)
  • The next morning Lila walks to the river to wash off her baptism. (103) (She has thought of this morning before. (See p. 22) at the river) Lila's thoughts go deeper this time: what terrible memory comes to her as she faces the reality of her pregnancy? (103-104) 
  • Lila decides at that moment that she will only stay in this town long enough to put this baby in his arms. Then she will leave. Why? How does Lila come to decisions? Do you judge her for it? (104)
Section Fifteen (pp. 105-112)
  • How does Rev. Ames' behavior change after he learns that Lila is pregnant? One morning Lila finds him in the kitchen after a sleepless night, and he explains that he has been having thoughts he is afraid to even pray about. What has been worrying him? (105)
  • Lila wonders whether the personality or experiences of an expectant mother can effect the baby she's carrying, and she reaches back in her own memory to see if she can sense any precense of her mother. (She has done this before. (see her mother (38-39)) What does she find deep in her mind this time? (106) She worries about whether 'unbaptizing herself' will hurt the baby inside her, and she begins a conversation with her unborn child. (105)
  • Lila reads a passage in Ezekiel about a fire which came up out of nowhere and then she copies it over fifteen times. How does that passage connect to her thinking now? (106)
  • What fears and dread does Lila think she may be passing on to her own baby? (106)
  • Lila connects this thought to Doll's unwillingess to let anyone see her face directly (except Lila). Why did Doll hide her face? Has she passed this fear on to Lila?) (106)
  • When Lila takes a walk that night with Rev. Ames, what miracle do they witness while hunting for blackberries? (107)
  • At home, Lila copies passages from Ezekiel which describe the sound of  'the wings of creatures in the firmament "like the noise of great waters,  like the voice of the Almighty, a noise of tumult like the noise of a host." She sits in the corner, hugs her knees and thinks about what happened to Doane's people when the Dust Storms began to blow and the hard times really got bad. How could they even live outside then? How did Doane's personality change? (108-09)
  • It was during this hard time when Doll seemed to abandon her and was gone for four days. (When has she thought about this terrible experience before? [when Doll left her (51-52)]  How has her thinking progressed?)  What terrible words out of Ezekiel is Lila afraid she must hear? (110)
  • What finally happened to Doane himself when he got desperate? What 'great voice' did they hear when their band  finally broke apart?  (110-11)
  • How does Lila reconcile herself to the terrible injustice of a life for people who are not only poor, tired and hungry, but even the wind soils them and makes their faces run with tears?  (112)
  • What have experiences like these taught Lila about life? Doll would say, "That's how it is." Can she reconcile herself to existence even if Ames turns away from her, even if the child she is carrying does not survive?
Section Sixteen (pp. 112-21)
  • Lila's pregnanacy shows more and more, and Rev. Ames tries to be kind to her in every way he can, including seeing less of Boughton. On a walk together he asks her what she is thinking about and she says 'existence'. (112-13), but she is thinking again of leaving.
  • After Rev. Ames hints to her that she is, for him, proof of God's grace, Lila thinks of all the looks she has had from townspeople that hint at how 'unseemly' they consider their marriage to be.(114)
  • Lila then remembers the time when Doll made her offer to be the bride of an old man who owned a decent house. What did the old man tell her when she visited him with a ribbon in her hair? (114-15) (What was happening to Doll's health by that point?) Can Lila really believe that she is in the same situation with Rev. Ames? (116) 
  • When Rev. Ames explains what 'the firmament' is to Lila, she thinks to herself about what an ignorant child she is, and she remembers the time in class when she was embarassed because she did not know the name of the country she lived in. (117-18)
  • And then Lila blurts out the truth: she tells Rev. Ames about the time that Doll convinced her to offer herself as a bride to the old man. Lila can tell she has hurt him. What does he say when they get home, and how does Lila try to apologize? Was this a 'good' moment for their relationship? (119-121)
  • What is it about the Judgment that Lila tells herself she must work out for herself if this marriage is going to work? (119-20)
Section Seventeen (pp. 121-123)
  • What does Lila resolve to do about her thinking when she first feels the baby move within her? (121-22) (What month is it?) In her imagination, Lila introduces her child to the town of Gilead and to the dead in Rev. Ames' family. What does she tell Rev. Ames when she gets home? (123)
Section Eighteen (pp. 123-132)
  • What are Lila's days like as she heads into the final trimester of her pregnancy?
  • What gift does Mrs. Graham give Lila? (What memory from St. Louis does that trigger? (124))
  • Lila thinks again of when Doll abandoned her. How is the memory shifting? Is she able to forgve her? (124) (See earlier moments: Doll seemed to abandon her (108-09);  when Doll left her (51-52)) 
  • Rev. Ames tries to put the punishment of the people of Israel in Ezekiel into context for Lila by explaining why the nation of Israel is so special to him and to world history, but Lila understands the fierce text at a much more basic level. How does Lila link the images and situations to her own experiences with Doll and Doane's people? (125-26)
  • After telling Lila about the way his father used sit in the parlor and speak directly to Jesus, Rev. Ames gets Lila to tell him more about Doll?  (126) What does she say? (Is this an important moment for the marriage?) (126-27) 
  • Lila also tells him about the passage from Ezekiel about the baby born in the field and cast away. How does Rev. Ames understand it? (129-30) (Is this moment important?)
  • As they sit together in the parlor, Lila seems to unwind a bit. She asks him about 'salting a baby', and Rev. Ames explains by referring to Calvin's interpretation of the verse. He says that Calvin's explanation for why God permits suffering is that this pain is necessary for people to recognize grace. (131-32) 
  • And Rev. Ames tells her that perhaps the suffering in his own life has only been a preparation for meeting her. (132)
Study Guide 4

 Section Nineteen (pp. 132-154)
  • The morning after Lila asked for Doll's knife, Rev. Ames has left it for her on the kitchen table. Lila recalls the way that Doll used to whett that knife, keeping it razor sharp. Then Lila recalls the night that Doll gave her the knife and told her to hide it. What had happened? (132-33) 
  • Lila recalls nights when that knife might have been needed when a stranger came near Doane's camp fire. Then she thinks of Doll's shawl again and the night it was burned. (notice that this time Lila recalls the memory in much greater detail.) (134) (See Doll's shawl (68-70)) 
  • Thinking about Doll's knife and shawl, Lila muses about the stories that things like knives or shawls or sugar bowls might tell if they could. She looks at the sugar bowl with its missing handle and thinks about the long dead siblings of Rev. Ames who broke it on a winter morning long ago. Then she imagines her own child sitting at the table.
  • Lila thinks of the passage from Ezekiel about the bloody baby born and left in a field which God lifted up, and she wonders why that child should feel shame. The baby had done nothing wrong. (Is Lila forgiving herself? For what?) (135-36)  QUOTE
  • Then Lila confronts a hard memory that she has not faced: the night Doll came to her covered in blood. What had happened? Who died? What does the sherriff say? Why is he amused? Who has the knife? (136-37) QUOTE
  • While awaiting trial, the sherrif decides not to lock Doll up in a cell. Instead, he brings a rocking chair out on the jail's porch and lets Doll sit there in the sun. Lila is upset because Doll told her, "I don't know you." Then one day Doll just got up and dragged herself off into the woods and fields to find a place to die. (137-38)
  • Lila will not tell Rev. Ames this story, but she does decide to go meet him at the church and walk home with him. (138-39)
  • That night in bed next to her husband, Lila remembers a terrible dream she has had repeatedly. What is in it? (138-39) As horrible as this dream is to Lila, she is comforted by the warmth of her husband next to her. QUOTE
  • That night Lila decides she will walk out to the cabin to get the money she has hidden there (and could use for a bus ticket out of town). She says to herself that she wants to buy a gift for Rev. Ames. (140)
  • The next morning Rev. Ames is able to coax from Lila what she had been dreaming about (only by telling her of his own worst dreams). Lila tells him that she thinks Doll went off to die alone because she wanted to find a grave where even God could not find her. How does Rev. Ames respond? (141-43)  Does Lila believe him? (143) QUOTE
  • After breakfast, Lila sets out on her hike to the cabin. (Remember she is in her final trimester of pregnancy.What month is it?) She hopes that she will see pelicans on her walk. (What do pelicans symbolize for many Christians?) (143)
  • When Lila gets to the shack, she notices immediately that someone has been there. She finds her money jar has been taken from its hiding place and is empty. Instead of leaving, Lila sits on the stoop and drouses off thinking of her husband. Then a Young Man appears. (Is Lila in danger?) (145)
  • What does Lila offer the Young Man? (146) QUOTE
  • Why did Doane and Doll always tell Lila to stay away from people on the road that looked like this man? (145-46)
  • When the Young Man offers to split the money he has taken with her, what does Lila tell him to do? (148)
  • When Lila looks closely at the Young Man, what can she tell about him? (149) QUOTE
  • What makes him come out and tell her what he has done to his paWhy did he do it? What is his plan now? (149-51)
  • How is the weather changing? (152)
  • What does Lila offer the Young Man when he refuses to go into town with her and stay at Rev. Ames' house? (153-54)
Section Twenty (pp. 154-165)
  • What moves Lila to return to the cabin even though she has walked nearly halfway home and the weather is deteriorating rapidly? (154)
  • Later, as she heads back home and the weather gets colder, Lila reassures her baby that he will never have to live like that poor boy, but then her thoughts turn to the day she got lost trying to follow Doll's trail when she wandered off to die. What does she recall? (154-55) QUOTE
  • The next thought that comes to her mind recalls a time when Mellie tried to trick Lila into giving her supper away, and Doll stepped in to protect her. (154-55) 
  • Lila wonders about the kind of person Mellie has turned into and marvels about how Mellie was such an extraordinary child. She wonders whether Mellie was bound to turn into 'just folk struggling to get by'. Then she laughs and tells her unborn child that all she can do is the best she can, just as Doll did for her. Is Lila succeeding in coming to terms with her grief over the loss of Doll? QUOTE
  • When Lila gets to town, she thinks about seeing a movie or going to the dime store, but then she becomes self-conscious about how strange she must look to others, walking in the wind and cold without a coat, so she steps into Rev. Ames' church to warm up. (156)
  • As Lila warms up in the church, she thinks about how 'lived in' by Rev. Ames the church has become while she herself feels like nothing more than 'the wind passing through' unless he is there to call her his wife. How can Lila overcome this feeling? (158-59)
  • When Lila gets home, there is no one there, and Lila figures that her husband has gone off to attend to a funeral, so she climbs into his bed. There she hugs her belly and wonders what life might have in store for her child. Will he wind up like that poor boy out at the cabin? She resolves that even if the old man dies, she will just have to love her child so much that things will work out, just as Doll loved her and took care of her. (160) QUOTE
  • When Lila hears Rev. Ames come in the front door, she can hear that Rev. Boughton is with him, and she remembers how Ames told her about that the terrible night when Mrs. Ames died. He was not home, but Rev. Boughton had been there when the baby suddenly came. He was also there to pray with Mrs. Ames and close her eyes when she died. (161) QUOTE 
  • After George Peterson told Rev. Ames that he had seen Lila walking out to the cabin, Ames got Rev. Boughton to drive them both out there. What happened when they got to the cabin? What did Rev. Ames think? (161-63)
  • Why does Lila want to go back out there? Why does Rev. Ames agree even if Boughton calls it 'aiding and abetting'? (163-65)
  • What do they discover at the cabin? (164)
  • What does Lila imagine the old men saying to each other during the ride home? (165)
Section Twenty-One (pp. 165-227)
  • When Rev. Ames comes down to breakfast the next morning, he is all dressed for church even though it is a Thursday. Lila can tell he is distressed and has something serious on his mind. He asks her if she really wants to stay with him, and she says yes, but he is not reassured until Lila tells him what? (165-68) QUOTE
  • What does Lila think about that young man and not tell Rev. Ames? (169) QUOTE
  • Then Lila thinks again about how Rev. Ames' first wife died. She goes and sits in the front bedroom where Mrs. Ames died, and Lila thinks of how Rev. Boughton had been there to bless the dying woman and to lift up and bless her dying child. For the first time in the action, Lila mentions Jesus, and she imagines that he too was in the room that awful night with Rev. Boughton.  How do you mark this moment in the development of Lila's relationship with Rev. Ames? (170) QUOTE
  • Why does Lila decide to read the Book of Job in the Bible?  (171)
  • Lila thinks about her body and the dangers she will face giving birth, and she wonders whether there is anything to her aside from her body, but then she thinks of her husband and how grieving for her might even make him give up praying. Is that faith? (172)
  • Lila worries more about not being herself anymore some day more than she worries about dying. (Is she thinking about her soul?) She sensed that feeling of being lost in the young man at the cabin. (173)
  • When Lila thinks of times when she wished she were rid of herself, she recalls another detail from the night she spent nursing Doll after the knife fight. Covered in blood, Doll told her that she didn't think she had killed Lila's Pa. How did Lila react to this shattering news? What did she want to know? (173) QUOTE
  • How did the grudge between Doll and Lila's family get started? (173)
  • That night, covered in Doll's and her pa's (?) blood, something snapped in Lila. How does she describe the way she felt? Is it healthy for her to recall this traumatic experience?  How does Lila overcome that terrible feeling? (174-75) QUOTE
  • Lila then reads from the Book of Job and finds the passage which describes the terrible wind which knocked down Job's house. This verse sparks a memory in Lila from her time with Doane's people. What did they do when a tornado threatened? (175-76) QUOTE
  • When Lila reads of the way that Job was afflicted with sores, her thoughts wander again to the night that she nursed Doll after the knife fight. Lila's own dress became so covered with blood that she had to find a new one.
  • Lila had to pound on the door of a dress shop, and when she was finally admitted, the woman shopkeeper saw Lila's dress covered completely in blood. What crime did the shopkeeper think Lila had committed? Why did she give Lila the address of the brothel in St. Louis? (177)
  • Why did Lila accept the shame of this crime even though she had done nothing wrong? What does Lila think of herself as she recalls this terrible time? Is she still ashamed? What prayer does she say for her unborn child? (178) QUOTE 
  • When Rev. Ames asks her what she is thinking about during their walk that night, Lila will only say 'existence'. But she is still deep in thought about her decision to go to St. Louis. Why did she make that choice? How did she feel about herself then? (How did Doll get her scar?) Has Lila found a way to live with these memories? (179) 
  • After buying the new dress, Lila returned to the jail to find Doll sitting on the porch in the rocking chair. Lila was there when members of Lila's own family came to the jail to lynch Doll. (180-83) How did the sherrif talk down the mob? (180)
  • Why did Lila feel such shame when her relatives accused Doll of stealing a baby girl? What did she "do to herself" even though she had done nothing wrong? Can she overcome that shame within herself now? (181)
  • How has reading the Book of Job helped Lila to come to terms with these terrible memories from her past?
  • The scene becomes horrifying when Lila's relatives leave and then return with an open coffin which contains the man Doll killed Lila looks at the corpse and thinks to herself that this man might be her father. What image from that moment will stay in Lila's memory forever?  [Is it healthy for her to be able to recall that image now?] (181-82) QUOTE
  • As she processes this horrific memory, her thoughts immediately shift to her first day in St. Louis when the woman they called Mrs. asked her. "What name should we call you?" and Lila responds "Doll". But that name has aready been taken. What name do they wind up calling her? What kind of state was Lila in when she arrived in St. Louis? (183) QUOTE
Study Gude 5

Lila worries more about not being herself anymore some day more than she worries about dying. (Is she thinking about her soul?) She sensed that feeling of being lost in the young man at the cabin. (173)

Why did Lila accept the shame of this crime even though she had done nothing wrong? What does Lila think of herself as she recalls this terrible time? Is she still ashamed? What prayer does she say for her unborn child? (178) QUOTE

It could be that the wildest, strangest things in the Bible were the places where it touched earth. Doane said once that he saw a cyclone cross a river. It took the water in its path up into itself and crossed on dry ground, and it was just as white as a cloud, white as snow.  (226)

"Things happen for reasons that are hidden from us, utterly hidden for as long as we think they must proceed from what has come before, our guilt or our deserving, rather than coming to us from a future that God in his freedom offers to us." Read the rest of his sermon and see if it may explain Robinson's central purpose in this novel. (222-23) 
  • When Lila remembers the parlor of the brothel in St. Louis, the credenza stands out in her memory: "that damn credenza with the vase of dusty feathers sitting on it. Looking like a coffin". What is a credenza? When Lila thinks of it, a fear stirs in her heart, and she apologizes to her baby for frightening it. (183)
  • When Lila greets Rev. Ames, home for lunch, she asks him whether the way her thoughts make her feel can harm the baby. He invites her to speak with him about these thoughts, but she refuses. Why? QUOTE
  • When Rev. Ames presses her to be more forthcoming, Lila wonders how he would respond if she said "there was a man" or "there was a child", but she stops herself and decides there are things that have happened in her life that she will never tell him. Do you agree with her? Are there secrets best kept to oneself in a relationship? (185) QUOTE
  • What does Rev. Ames fear more than anything else? (185-86) When Lila thinks of how much thought Rev. Ames has put into how he would deal with raising the child alone if she left him, how does she try to reassure him? (186)
  • Rev. Ames encourages Lila to redecorate their home any way she wants, and she replies, "Do you know what a credenza is?" Why is that credenza on her mind? What is it that scares her so about it? (187)
  • Rev. Ames sees that Lila is upset about something, so he invites her to come down to the church with him that afternoon, but she refuses. She says, ""It's on my mind now, so I might as well get it done with. It's so different here it makes me remember other places I been. I guess I have to do that. Sort things out a little."  Is this a good sign or a bad sign for Lila? (188) QUOTE
  • What did it feel like when Lila walked into that house in St. Louis? When did it stop feeling that way? (188) QUOTE
  • What were the other women like? (189) What did the place smell like? (190) QUOTE
  • What does the Madam keep locked away in the credenza? What does it look like? What does Lila give to the Madam to keep in there? In her imagination, Lila even thinks of giving Mrs. the locket which Rev. Ames gave her. (190-91) QUOTE
  • How much money did Lila owe Mrs.? How does Mrs. keep her women from leaving? (191)
  • Why did Lila willingly surrender to this kind of life? How long did she live in this house? (Any hints?) (192)
  • What routines did the women have to follow when men started to arrive? (193)
  • Liza lists the memories she can never tell Rev. Ames because she cannot understand them herself. Even so, now she can name them. Is that progress? (193) QUOTE
  • Which customer did Lila fall in love with? How did he torment her? How did she feel even though she knew he was just tormenting her? (194)  How did living in this house begin to change Lila's personality? (195) QUOTE
  • What plan did Lila come up with to stop working in the parlor? (195)
  • Lila remembers herself standing alone in the furnace room, waiting for dawn, and she imagines having a conversation with Doll about what she has been doing with her life. What does she tell herself to do? How has Doll come to her rescue once again?  What does Doll tell Lila to do? (196-99) QUOTE
  • At one point in this imagined conversation, Lila wonders what she is doing living with Rev. Ames when for the most part her mind still seems trapped in that furnace room in St. Louis. (199) QUOTE
  • To escape, she dreamed one day of stealing a baby from one of the girls, Missy, who had gotten pregnant. Lila thinks that maybe she should do the same with Rev. Ames' child one day. She fantasizes about what life on the road would be like with a baby to love like Doll loved her. (200)
  • What work does Lila start to do so that she does not have to be in the parlor anymore? When she hears that Missy is going to have a baby, what does Lila resolve to do? (201-02)
  • Lila remembers the boy Deke whom she and Mellie had fancied when they became teens. Lila believed back then that she was incapable of having babies. (202)
  • Lila reveals to herself that there was a time before Doll's knife fight when Doll had told her to go off on her own and find a life for herself. That was when Lila found the job clerking in the store. (202-03)
  • Lila wonders how Doll caught up with her in that town and how she had gotten into a knife fight with a man who could have been her father. She fantasizes about what that man would have told her if he had found her, but Lila can only imagine him the way he looked in that coffin.  (204) QUOTE
  • Lila sustained herself in that house in St. Louis by dreaming of the day she would steal Missy's baby. She tends to Missy by bringing her food and easing her pain. (206)
  • But that dream evaporated one morning when Missy's sister came and took her away. Liza realized how crazy she had become dreaming that she could return to her old life. Even so, that  same morning Liza boke into the credenza where Mrs. kept all the girls' favorite things. She took Doll's knife, packed a suitcase and left.  (206-07)
  • She found work cleaning rooms in a hotel, and "then the years passed."  What state of mind was Lila in as she worked from day to day, barely speaking to anyone for years? Was she alive? How did she pass the time when she was not working?  (207-09)
  • What happened one day to bring even this half life to an end for her? (210) After this last humiliation, Lila imagines herself as trapped in the dark side of a town she had seen in a movie version of The Picture of Dorian Gray. She is afraid she might kill some man if he ever said something nice to her. (211) 
  • Lila decides to get on a bus and leave, but then she would not have any money. By a stroke of luck, a woman (an angel?)  in a car stopped by her near the bus station and asked her where she was going. Lila climbs in and they are off to IowaWhy is she driving to Iowa? (212-13) 
  • What is this lady like? What religious denomination does she belong to? What do they believe? What has her life been like?  (215) What does Lila feel like telling this lady but does not? (216) QUOTE
  • With whom does she catch a ride at the gas station in Indianola? (218)
  • What are the first days like at the shack outside of Gilead? What does Lila tell her unborn child she was on the verge of doing?  How do her memories of Mellie keep her company? (218-19) QUOTE
  • Who is the first person she met in Gilead? How did her first meeting with Mrs. Graham go? (220-21)
  • At the end of this long meditation on her life, Lila tells her unborn child that she will never leave him behind if she goes, but she also concludes that Rev. Ames might never give her cause to leave because he loves her. Has Lila finally made a commitment to this relatinship and this town?  (221-22)
  • Lila recalls that day when she came out of the rain into Rev. Ames' church and they saw each other for the first time. How is her memory of that moment different now than it was earlier in the action? How has their relationship grown since then? (222)
  • Lila remembers one morning when Rev. Ames read to her a sermon whose main theme concerned the mystery of life: He says, "Things happen for reasons that are hidden from us, utterly hidden for as long as we think they must proceed from what has come before, our guilt or our deserving, rather than coming to us from a future that God in his freedom offers to us." Read the rest of his sermon and see if it may explain Robinson's central purpose in this novel. (222-23) QUOTE
  • How does Lila understand his point in the sermon? She believes that he is still struggling to come to terms with the death of Mrs. Ames long ago. Has he? (223-24)
  • Lila and Rev. Ames talk again of the baby weltering in its blood from Ezekiel. Has Lila resolved the doubts she had about herself and Rev. Ames' religion when he insists that God especially looks after the strays? (225-26)
  • How does Lila now understand Rev. Ames  love for her? How does it make sense with the stories she has read in Ezekiel?
  • Lila thinks to herself that the wildest and strangest thing about the Bible stories were when they briefly touched earth, like a cyclone out of a storm. How could this notion describe Lila's whole experience in this story? She thinks again of the house in St. Louis and recognizes that the worst possible things that can happen to a person happened there, yet a cyclone has lifted her up and plunked her donw in Gilead. and Rev. Ames beleives that she came to him right out of the Bible. (226-27)  QUOTE
Study Guide 6

Section Twenty-One (pp. 227-231)
  • Why is this Christmas the very first one Lila has ever celebrated? How did they observe the holiday in St. Louis? How about on the road with Doane's people? (227-29)
  • What secret thoughts remain unspoken but continue to agitate Lila's mind? (229-30)  What heaven does she imagine for the thief who died next to Jesus on the cross? (229-30) 
  • How did Rev. Ames' ancestors observe Christmas? (230-31)
  • Despite Rev. Ames's good cheer what dread lurks beneath the Christmas cheer? (230-31) QUOTE
Section Twenty-Two (pp. 232-245)
  • What made the situation in Mid-March so dangerous for Lila? (232-33)
  • What does it feel like for Lila to be nine months preganant? (233) QUOTE
  • Why is Rev. Ames so worried about Rev. Boughton? (233-34)
  • Rev. Ames' anxiety reminds Lila of Doane's dread during the hard times when he had to resort to stealing chickens to provide for his people. What prayer does she wish on them all (if she prayed)? (234-35) QUOTE
  • Rev. Ames helps Lila up the stairs and into bed so she can lie down for a bit, and  she asks him to crawl into bed with her to keep her warm. He tells her that all they can do now is pray. Lila is sceptical. In her experience the best things that have happened to her she could never have imagined much less pray for. The worst things just happen, like the weather. How does Rev. Ames respond? (236-37) QUOTE
  • As Lila dozes off she dreams of taking the baby to the river and imagines that she leaves the babe in the grass too long while she is picking rasberries. Has Lila put her own nightmares to rest? (238)
  • In her half dream state, Lila tells herself to put Doll's knife away, but she prizes the knife because it is her only possession and, truth be told, a major part of who she is. (239)
  • Lila smells the frozen sheets out on the line which remind her of the smell of the air after a lightning storm. She imagines the smell luring her back to her old life outdoors on the road. Will she ever stop yearningfor that life? (240-41)
  • Lila thinks to herself that she can choose to live with Rev. Ames and still keep that old life with her because it is all around her, like the soul of the world, and she remembers a time when she and Mellie came upon a field full of just blooming dandelions. (242) QUOTE
  • Then Lila imagines Mack from St. Louis coming to her door in Gilead and mocking her again, "So it's Mrs. Ames now?" Will this ghost ever be put to rest?  (242-43)
  • Finally, Lila thinks of her baby, and imagines her child grown up enough to see her for who she really is, a hard, proud drifter with a razor sharp knife. What will he think of her then? But always, he will be "you", a person she would surely recognize in heaven. When Rev. Ames wakes up, she turns and looks at him and says, "You." What has Lila achieved? (244-45) QUOTE
Section Twenty-Three (pp. 245-249)
  • A couple of weeks later, another snowstorm comes, which Rev. Ames calls 'sugar snow'. He collects some in a glass bowl and puts it on the kitchen window sill to melt. He plans to use this water to christen the baby. (244-45)
  • When the baby is delivered, how healthy is he? How does Boughton respond? How does Rev. Ames? What does Lila ask Ames to do? [Who is the other Boughton she asks after?] (245-47) QUOTE
  • When Rev. Ames and Rev. Boughton try to christen the baby, what happens? How does the baby respond? (247-48)  QUOTE
Section Twenty-Four (pp. 249-261)