Theme: The African American Experience During the Civil War
Grades: Grades 11-12
Based on the life of Walker's own great grandmother, this best-selling
book, published in 1965, has been called the first truly historical
African-American novel. Drawing on the written record as well as an oral
history of plantation life, the story celebrates the African folk roots
of the African-American experience. Vyry, the remarkable heroine of Jubilee,
survives the cruelty of slavery, the hardship of the Civil War, and
the dangerous uncertainties of Reconstructionall the while holding
on to her dream of freedom.
Note: Since this novel deals realistically with issues of slavery
and racial oppression, offensive terms are frequently spoken by some
of the characters. You may wish to discuss this issue with students
before they begin reading.
- Concept Web.
Have students work independently or in small groups to create a word
web or other graphic organizer that explores one or more of these
concepts: slavery, oppresion, prejudice, freedom.
Prejudice, discrimination, and freedom from oppresion are central
themes in Jubilee. Have students explore these powerful concepts
by role-playing or discussing one of the situations that follow: (1)
have you ever been treated unfairly because of race, religion, gender,
social or economic status, or the way you look or dress? How did you
personally respond? Do you think that your response was an appropriate
one? Why or why not? (2) Think of people you have read about who successfully
overcame oppression. For example, you might recall that Pilgrims migrated
to America in pursuit of religious freedom and that Frederick Douglass
became a prominent leader in the antislavery movement after he escaped
from slavery. What kinds of oppressioneconomic, social, cultural,
religiousdo people experience? What steps can people take to
fight oppression? What qualities or traits do you think might help
or hinder someone who is fighting against oppression?
Whose Side Are You On?
Have the class hold an informal debate or discussion as to how Reconstruction
should have been handled. To do so, have students play the roles
of characters in the last third of the novel, such as Vyry, Innis
Brown, Randall Ware, Jim, Henry Turner (in the Georgia State House),
old Doc, Mr. Pippins, Mr. or Mrs, Jacobson, Reverend Whittake, Miss
Lucy, Mr. or Mrs. Shackleford, and Mr. Porter. Students should prepare
arguments based on their reading of the novel and the related readings
as well as on their own research. Some students may wish to play
the roles of historical figures not in the novel. Make sure the
debate maintains a constructive tone and doesn't degenerate into
- The Sounds of Music.
Throughout Jubilee, Walker quotes lyrics from African American
spirituals. In this project, students will research the history of
spirituals and locate the lyrics and music of a favorite spiritual.
Students will conclude the project by presenting a brief oral report
and by sharing a spiritual.
- Divide the class into small groups. Then have the members of
each group work together to research spirituals. Suggest that
they use an on-line or print encyclopedia, a dictionary of music,
or a book about spirituals, or consult a music teacher or a musician
who is familiar with spirituals, to find answers to questions
such as: What are spirituals? When and where did spirituals originate?
How are spirituals related to traditional African music? Why did
people sing sprituals in the years around the Civil War? Why do
people sing spirituals today? What kinds of emotions do spirituals
express? What musical instruments, if any, are associated with
spirituals? What are the titles of some well-known spirituals?
- After groups finish their research, have them prepare oral reports.
Ask them to plan to conclude their reports by performing or by
playing a recording of their favorite spiritual. Have students
who read music assist those classmates who plan to perform a spiritual
from sheet music.
- Have groups take turns presenting their oral reports. Beforehand,
make sure that groups have any equipment they needa record
player, tape recorder, or CD playerto play recordings of
spirituals. After all the groups have concluded their presentations,
have students discuss why they think Walker incorporates lyrics
from spirituals in her novel. Ask them: How do the spirituals
quoted at the beginning of chapters capture the mood of the novel?
How do the lyrics reflect what events take place? Also, have students
indentify and discuss lyrics from spirituals they have heard recently.
- Slave Narratives.
Have students find and read portions of a slave narrative such as
The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Then have them
write a comparison and contrast essay to examine similarities and
differences between the slave narrative they read and the fictional
account of slavery in Jubilee.
- Explore the Underground Railroad.
In Chapter 17, Vyry and her children attempt an escape from John Dutton's
plantation by way of the Underground Railroad. Instruct students to
research the Underground Railroad and then write a report about how
some enslaved people were conducted to freedom.