Jesmyn Ward, a MacArthur Fellow, has been chosen by Oprah Winfrey as the author of “Let Us Descend”, which is her latest book club selection.
The book “Let Us Descend” was released by Scribner, a division of CBS News’ parent company Paramount Global. It tells the story of Annis, a young teenager who was enslaved and faced many challenges. The book follows her difficult journey from a plantation in North Carolina to her eventual sale in New Orleans.
The following questions, discussion topics, and supplementary material are designed to enrich a group’s discussion of “Let Us Descend.”
A guide for book club discussions created by Jesmyn Ward.
Possible Discussion Questions:
Discussion Points and Topics:
Possible Points for Discussion:
1. According to page 4, Annis characterizes her mother as a “woman with a hidden soft side.” Can you recall instances where Mama displays her tenderness? In your view, why does she keep her “tender heart” hidden and what does she hope to safeguard by doing so?
Please turn to page 6 and begin reading from “I make sure to conceal…” until the text break on page 9 where it says “Queens.”
What is the potential symbolism of bees in the novel?
symbolize in Let Us Descend? by
3. On page 33, Annis listens through the door as her half-sisters are taught a passage from
a literary antecedent for this
The book is influenced by Dante’s Inferno, much like how Annis serves as a literary precursor.
Dante was guided through the nine layers of Hell on his journey south by Aza as they walked together.
Please describe Annis’s travels from the Carolinas to New Orleans, as guided by the spirit of Virgil.
Can you identify any “levels of suffering” she may have experienced? What sets them apart from each other?
Did Ward’s references to Inferno influence your interpretation of the novel?
4. Reflect on the significance of spirits in Let Us Descend. They can possess malicious intentions and self-serving desires.
Schemes of ill intent, or benevolent advisors offering guidance and solace, and everything in the middle.
How would you describe Aza’s initial appearance to Annis in Chapter 3?
Upon arriving in New Orleans, Annis discovers a new and unfamiliar world.
Numerous individuals with brown skin, some possibly even lighter than her, have the freedom to “enter through the door.”
On page 92, the author describes these women as living as if every step they take is their own, and they avoid making eye contact.
from Annis, Phyllis, and the other enslaved people. Shortly after, a group of young boys
The children gaze at Annis, but their mother quickly takes them away. What is the reason behind the Newcomb citizens’ freedom?
Is Orleans hesitant to observe the prisoners as they pass by? Alternatively, what is the reason for this?
Was it difficult for Phyllis and Annis to divert their attention from the free Black individuals?
On page 113, Annis describes New Orleans as a hive and us as the honey.
Can you interpret what she is trying to convey?
on a mission to collect
During a mission to collect, Annis encountered the spirits known as They Who Take and Give, who reside in the ground. The discussion revolved around this encounter.
She is restricted to pages 158-164, known as “The Hole.” How would you describe her emotional state?
Did the journey affect her view of the spirits during their encounter?
Was it changed for you?
had no control over her hair
8. Annis is trying to gain control over a part of her life by cutting her hair, since she had no control over it before.
Annis’s hair severs a clear link to her intricate family background. What is the reason behind the uniqueness of her hair?
What is the significance of this action? Why do you believe she sacrifices her hair to those who give and take?
Think about the physical transformations of Aza. For instance, on page 184, she becomes smaller and alters her shape.
Annis may perceive that they are almost like sisters. Additionally, observe how Aza adopts Annis’s mannerisms.
Why does Mama Aza continuously change her appearance?
What is she expecting to receive from Annis?
Improve your book club experience
Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship
Jesmyn Ward has been awarded two National Book Awards, a MacArthur Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship for her previous literary works.
in the novel?
What is the significance of ghosts in the novel Sing, Unburied, Sing?
Compare the characters of Leonie and Given to those of Annis and Aza in the novel. Alternatively, you could read “Salvage the Bones” and analyze the role each character plays.
Does the novel explore themes of nature? How is the intensity of nature portrayed in comparison to this novel?
Can you discuss the relationship between the two books, Beloved by Toni Morrison and [unknown]?
3. Watch Roots, the 1977 miniseries that told the saga of American families by tracing the
What is the importance of the connection between their African origins and their existence in America?
What is the significance of familial inheritance in the history of African Americans?
references and explain them
“Explore the historical references and provide explanations for them in Let Us Descend.”
histories of plaçage women, the Great Dismal Swamp, and maroon colonies.