1. This tale was written in 1859, seven years after the publication of The Old Nurse's Tale and Other Stories in 1852. How would you compare the tone of this story with that of "The Old Nurse's Tale"?
2. Do you see any potential autobiographical themes in the tale? (Gaskell an orphan, had lost siblings) Might anything in Gaskell's experience have prompted the treatment of so dark a subject?
3. What were Gaskell's own religious views? What would she likely have believed about the practice of condemning witches? (a form of persecution against helpless and somewhat marginalized women)
4. Do you think this story was influenced by Nataniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter? Do she and Hawthorne have a similar point of view? What are some differences in emphasis?
5. How does the title, "Lois the Witch," affect the reader's expectations of the tale?
6. What initial situation opens the novella? What causes the reader to feel sympathy for Lois's plight? Would this motif have appealed to English readers?
7. What irony is embedded in the name of the ship which carries Lois to the New World? Are other names used in the tale ironic or symbolic?
8. What do we learn about Lois's character? (care for graves of parents and servant; sadness)
9. What is notable about her mother's final words? Does the narrator find them lacking? Heedless? Ominous?
10. Why can't Lois marry Hugh Lucy? What silent judgment seems to be made at this point?
11. What role does Captain Holderness play in the opening section? What are his views of religion? Of the Puritans?
12. On arrival, what news do the voyagers learn about the condition of the Massachusetts Bay Colony? What has been its recent political history, and what bearings may this have on the events of the plot?
13. What are some purposes served by the scene in which Lois and Captain Holdernesse stay with the Widow Smith? What are some features of the household? Of their first feast? (145, different foods, long prayer)
14. What tales are told of the Indians and French pirates? What do you make of the tale of the desperate woman and the colonists who make no attempt to help her? (147)
15. What is Elder Hawkins's response to this narration? To the Indians? (147-48) What alternate view does Captain Holdernesse present? (148)
16. What experience has Lois had with witches? What seems the significance of the memory? What had been Lois's response to the desperate witch, and to her prophecy? (pity, fear) What purpose does this incident serve in the tale? (149)
17. What seems ominous about Elder Hawkins's response to the story? In what way does Captain Holdernesse defend Lois? (150)
18. What is added to the tale by the description of the roads and forests on the way to Salem?
19. How are Lois and the Captain welcomed at the Hickson home? What seems shown by Grace's initial words and Lois's response? (153) What has motivated Grace's dislike for her husband's relatives?
20. What remarks on religion and her husband's past does Grace offer to her guest? (those who failed to resign their livings on conscientious grounds, such as Lois's father, were wicked)
21. How does Manasseh intervene in the situation? What is her uncle's response to her arrival? (155) Grace's reaction to his sorrow at his only surviving sister's death? (155, jealous of her husband's memories of home), offended at Lois's resentment at her statement that the latter's mother's death was God's will (156). What does Grace maintain in defence of her own godliness? (156)
22. What do we first learn of Manasseh's character, habits and prayer? (157)
23. What fears are suggested by the Captain's parting? (157) How are his words premonitory?
24. At this point of the story, what does the reader expect will happen? Is this a good place to end a part of a series?
1. In part II, what difficulties does Lois experience in her new home? How is she treated by each of the family members--her uncle, aunt, Manasseh, Faith and Prudence, and Nattee?
2. What is their reaction to her religious background?
3. In particular, what is Manasseh's attitude toward her?
4. What views of Native Americans are held by the family? How is Nattee portrayed? What views of the relationship of Euro- and Native Americans do you think are implied by Gaskell's presentation?
5. What kinds of legends are circulated in the town? Are any of these favorable to Indians? (effects of Indian charmes, bewitching)
6. What kind of narrative intrusion does the author insert at this point, and why?
7. What is Lois's relationship with Faith? What motivates her to tell Faith stories and superstitions she has heard in England, and with what result? (Prudence calls Lois a witch, 165)
8. How do the household's young women respond to Pastor Tappau's prayers, and from what motives? (criticizes Lois, 162; annoys Faith, 162) Why does Faith dislike him? (163)
9. What seems the relationship between Faith and Nattee? (Nattee fond of Faith, dislikes Pastor Tappau) What effects will this relationship later have on the plot?
10. What are some ways in which we can tell the narrator's point of view? Are there elements of humor or irony in the tale?
11. What is the effect of Ralph's death on Lois's situation?
12. What is the nature of Manasseh's proposals? Lois's reasons for not wishing to marry him?
13. Why will he not accept her refusal or the fact that she has a prior attachment? (has seen a portent, 170; accuses her of blasphemy, 171)
14. How does the narrator respond to her refusal? (171; she's harrassed repeatedly)
15. What is Grace Hickson's view of this possible alliance? (168, 179, anger) To what degree does she come to accept her son's attachment to Lois?
16. What effect is created by the return of Pastor Nolan to the village? His visit to the Hickson home? (his visit causes perturbation, 176-77; Faith sobs hysterically)
17. What do you make of the spells and potients of Nattee? Why do you think this detail is included in the plot?
18. What do we learn about Manasseh's past emotional life? (180, has been suicidal) What commentary does the narrator make at this point about the family's behavior? (might betray some emotional instability)
19. What causes an outbreak of terror among the inhabitants of Salem? (factionalism, possible tricks by Nattee)
20. By what means does the narrator undercut the credibility of those who recount alleged demonic events? (183-184)
21. How do members of the community respond to Pastor Tappau's charges? Is it significant that even Pastor Nolan is frightened? How do the Hickson family members respond? Lois?
22. At the end of section II, what kind of outcome do readers expect?
1. What explanation does the narrator give for belief in witchcraft? (fear, revenge)
2. What is Faith's reaction to Lois's questions about Nattee's charms? (distrusts her, 42) What prevents Faith from imparting her opinions to Lois? What may she be concealing?
3. What are Faith's views on religion? In the context of this story, is this significant? Has Grace Hickson succeeded in passing on her piety to her daughters?
4. Why do you think the narrator chose Hota, the Indian servant, as the first victim to be accused of witchcraft?
5. What is Lois's response to the condemnation of Hota? (44, troubled) Why do you think her narrator makes her protagonist believe in the existence of witches?
6. What is Grace Hickson's response to the news? (wishes member of respectable household had been used as an example)
7. What methods have been used to extract Hota's confession? (45) What have been the signs of alleged demonic possession? (45)
8. What is Manasseh's reaction to the topic of witchcraft? (fears he may be possessed, 47) What changes occur in his reaction to Lois? (she leads him into temptation, 48)
9. What incidents/decisions prevent Pastor Nolan from from receiving Faith's letter? What do you think it contained? (49)
10. What is Pastor Nolan's response to Lois's presence and conversation? What prompts Faith's anger?
11. What events precede the scene in which Lois is accused of witchcraft? How do the different family members respond to the prospect and sight of the execution?
12. What do you make of Prudence's desire to see the execution? Her anger at Lois? Her accusation of sorcery? Who had first suggested this idea to her? (Faith, 53)
13. Cotton Mather's sermon is reproduced from the historical record. What are some of its salient features?
14. What prompts Prudence's accusations? Had Hota mentioned her as a witch? (no) Does anyone attempt to help or speak for Lois?
15. How do the Hickson family respond to these accusations? Do you think they could have prevented the outcome had they tried?
16. What embarrassments attend Manasseh's attempts to argue for her release? Are there valid points to his arguments? (a critique of predestination in general)
17. How does Grace Hickson interpret Manasseh's mental illness? (result of Lois's spells, 59)
18. At her trial, who are her accusers? (all young girls) What are the means of examination? (63)
19. What events occur during her imprisonment? Who visits her and with what effect? (Pastor Tappau demands her confession; Grace pleads with her to retract her spells; she comforts Nattee) Why do you think these scenes are included?
20. What is especially striking about the interview with Grace?
21. Why was Manasseh unable to attempt to help her? (drugged by his mother) What happens to him? What does his action add to the scene of Lois's death?
22. Who else among the inhabitants of Salem and the story's characters suffers a similar fate? (Pastor Nolan) Why were some dogs also killed?
23. What is moving about the account of her death? How do the bystanders react? (have some sense of having committed a crime)
24. What is added to the story by the accounts of the later repentent statements of Prudence and the residents of Salem? What has prompted them to repent? (desire to avoid punishment)
25. What part does the return of Ralph Lucy play in the plot? (provides a frame and commentary) Do you think the story is improved by our knowledge of later events?
26. What is added to the story by the use of historical documents? How would the effect of the story have been altered if the readers did not know that such events had occurred?
27. Are there elements of the plot or story which you believe are left unexplained? (how was Nattee accused, for example--by Prudence? what caused Prudence and Grace to realize their former error)
28. How is Gaskell able to create a sense of suspence and progression when the reader knows in at least a general way what will occur? Does the story's tone suggest the possibility of a happy ending?
29. What has been Gaskell's purpose in presenting such an horrific series of events?
30. Do you find the psychological patterns presented plausible? Does the story have any present day social application?
What are some themes of this tale? (the effects of mass hysteria on individuals; the cruel effects of actions prompted by fear; the extent to which petty jealousies may have great effects)
Do you find parallels between this and other Gaskell stories you have read? Other Victorian tales? What is distinctive about this story?
Is there an advantage to the division of this tale into three parts? Is the tale the right length for its content?
What may be some advantages in the use of the "gothic tale" or ghost story as a form?
If the events of this story were used for a novella today, how might it be written differently?
Page numbers for "Lois the Witch" are from the Penguin edition of Gothic Tales, 2000.