1. The act of lighting Shabbat candles is Anica’s enduring link to her faith and to her mother. “When I pray, I hear my mother’s voice whispering the prayer with me,” she tells Ruth. Explore the significance of the observance of the candle lighting ceremony and how it connects generations of Amselem women to come. How does lighting the candles strengthen the bond between Ruth and Anica? Does your family observe traditions that have been handed down from one generation to another?
2. Many of the novel’s women display extraordinary strength and fierce independence in the face of overwhelming societal obstacles. Consider their courage within the context of the male-dominated society in which they lived. Which female character did you like most? Least?
3. When Anica sympathizes with Margaret about losing a parent at a young age, Margaret responds, “Yes, well these things happen.” What does the exchange reveal about Margaret? Did your feelings change toward her when you learned the circumstances of her marriage?
4. Discuss Viney’s reason for ending her life and the lives of her children.
5. Does Philip’s final act of freeing his slaves change your opinion of him or redeem him in any way?
6. Upon returning from boarding school, Benjamin is blindsided by Efren’s plans for his future. What are your impressions of Efren as a father? How would you describe the relationship between father and son?
7. Consider the role spiritual connections to the dead play in the novel. Do you believe in omens and signs?
8. When Benjamin tells Ruth he wants to marry Hannah, she asks: “Are you strong enough to face the people who will treat you with scorn for marrying a black woman?” Reflect on the challenges facing Benjamin and Hannah in 1808. Would they face the same challenges today?
9. Think about Nella Hinshaw’s reaction when Hannah reveals she wants to educate the destitute women she treats about birth control. Is she right to discourage Hannah?
10. Benjamin challenges a doctor from a prominent family for his lack of compassion for Almshouse patients, and loses his position as a staff physician. “Even as I was reviling him I knew I was making a dangerous enemy. I just didn’t care,” he tells Hannah. Was Benjamin’s stand against indifference admirable or reckless?
11. Consider Mariana’s devotion to Anica, and the unwavering bonds of friendship between Anica and Ruth, Efren and Amadis, and the family they create. Discuss the difference between having relatives and being a part of a family.
12. How is In Freedom’s Light relevant today?