Study Guide

hush Religion

By Jacqueline Woodson

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She bought a Watchtower, an Awake! and a small brown book called Reasoning the Scriptures.

But you don't have a religious bone in your body, my sister said to her.

What do I have? Mama asked. Then she shook her head, brushed the hair back from Cameron's forehead and tried to smile. You know I don't mean that. But she packed the literature into her bag. (2.1-3)

This passage seems to suggest that Mama is questioning everything she's thought is true—including her former rejection of religion. What in her situation might lead her to turn to religion?

Mama says the lies we're forced to tell are God's will. She believes God sent His Witnesses to our door that morning for a reason. He knew I'd need them, she says.

Mama's wrapped her arms around God's legs, Anna says. I guess she figures He'll drag her to a better place. (2.11-12)

What do you think of Cameron/Anna's image of Mama's religion? What do you think of the idea that God would want people to lie for some reason? Why might Anna and Mama interpret the situation in this way?

Lulu used to say that we're just paper dolls made at one of God's play dates. He knows the scene, she'd say. From start to finish already. Even if we don't have a clue. (8.2)

This seems like something Lulu would say. How does Lulu's image of God compare to Mama's? How are they similar and different? Does either image help Toswiah understand what happens to her?

Mama's religion says We are in the world but not of the world. Maybe that's true. It's a religion of lots of rules that I don't believe in, but once in a while it makes sense. This place isn't my world. My soul isn't here. (12.8)

Here we get an interesting application of Mama's spiritual ideas to Toswiah's physical life. Toswiah isn't fully on board, but she does see some sense here.

"What plan?!" my father shouts. Anna and I jump, but Mama stands there as if this loud voice came out of Daddy every single day. "What damn plan does your god have?! Tell me, because I want to be a part of it!"

Mama presses her Bible closer to her chest and doesn't say anything. She doesn't look angry. Just a little bit… a little bit broken.

"Don't take this away from me," she says. "Not this, too." (14.27-29)

Here we see that Mama really does blame Daddy for taking her whole life away, and now he's challenging the most important part of her new identity. This whole witness protection thing seems hard.

On Thanksgiving, Mama made lasagna and thanked her Jehovah for giving us another day. We ate the lasagna quietly, listening to Mama preach about how worldly holidays were wrong. I don't know how celebrating the fact that Pilgrims and Native Americans stopped fighting long enough to sit down and eat a meal together is a sin in God's eyes, Anna had said. I had never been a big turkey fan, but I missed Thanksgiving, missed all the people who stopped by to eat dinner or dessert with us and wish us a happy holiday. I missed us putting up lights two days after Thanksgiving and me and Anna fighting over how we'd hang them. (16.2)

Mama accuses Daddy of taking everything away from her, but then she takes away something that's important to her daughters. What do you think of Mama's actions? Is she being self-centered or does she genuinely believe they are all better off without celebrating holidays?

I went over to the closet and pulled out a green wool jumper. Women weren't allowed to wear pants at Kingdom Hall because the elders said it was being disrespectful to God—which made no sense to me. I mean, Eve was hopping around the Garden of Eden naked and God didn't seem to be mad about that. (16.10)

Mama's conversion imposes a lot of new rules in Toswiah/Evie's life, but it also forces her to explore her own ideas about God. And right here, Toswiah/Evie isn't really buying it.

Jehovah's Witnesses believe you go back to the dust after you die—that it's like you never were. They believe a few people go to heaven and some go to the New World that God's gonna create after He gets tired of how messed up this one is. No hell, though. Heaven, New World, or dust—those are your options.

Toswiah and Cameron? Dust. Evie and Anna? New World. Daddy? Already living in another religion's hell. Mama? Heaven? Who knows. (16.11-12)

Here's another place where Toswiah/Evie applies the tenets of Mama's religion to the practical elements of her life. Why does she apply each afterlife location to each family member?

"Or what about us?" I yelled. "What about us? What did we do to deserve this?!"

Mama shook her head. "The Lord works in mysterious ways. He has his plans and it's not for us to understand. There's a reason why we're here. We just don't know it yet." (16.45-46)

This is one of the few places where Toswiah/Evie actually actively yells and screams about what has happened to her family. Mama believes there's a reason, and later, Cameron/Anna admits that she believes there's a reason for everything that happens, too. How do Cameron/Anna and Mama, who have very different beliefs, come to the same conclusion?

Anna says she believes there's a reason for everything that happens—even us coming here. Some mornings I think about what Lulu used to say about God having our stage set long before we were even in this world. I think about my own stage—how in the middle of the play, God said Cut!

I think in the middle of everything, God changed his mind. And maybe, just maybe, came up with a better idea. (28.28-29)

Maybe things are better, maybe they aren't. There's no way to ever know. Toswiah/Evie's reference to God here, though, lets us know she's warming up to her new life.

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