Book Club Discussion Questions

Use these questions about Bessie’s Pillow to stimulate discussion in your book club:

  1. In what ways does Bessie demonstrate being an independent woman?
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  2. How does Bessie reconcile her love of working and being in business with her roles as a wife and mother? How do these conflicts compare with women today who balance work, home, and even being a single mom.
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  3. Bessie would never have considered herself a suffragist, much less a feminist. Yet in many ways she was more like them than she realized. How do you see her values, actions, and belief systems mirroring those of her activist sisters.
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  4. Bessie probably never realized that her values and actions also fit into the Progressive era’s emphasis on reform and social justice. In what ways do you think she reflected the times she lived in? (See the Progressive Era page on this website for details about this time in American history if you aren’t sure.)
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  5. Many immigrant women of all nationalities and religious beliefs, eager to become Americanized, would become citizens and vote, choose American fashions, go to school, and raise their children to be Americans. These same women would, however, cling to food from the “Old Country,” as they modified recipes to make them simpler and took advantage of modern appliances. How did food play an important role in Bessie’s life? What food that originated with your grandmothers or great-grandmothers is still important in your family and why?
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  6. Compare Bessie’s experiences with those of your own family such as Russian Jewish immigrant grandparents, Irish or Italian ancestors, immigrants from Soviet Russia, Holocaust survivors in America, families who moved with covered wagons to the West, current immigrants from Mexico and Latin America, etc.  How have these experiences affected your family? How do these experiences influence how you identify yourself today?
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  7. Immigration remains a major political and social issue today as people from Mexico, Latin America, India and other countries are being deported or denied entry into the United States.  Do you think the situation today is different than it was in Bessie’s time?