Lenten Book Study 2023

Lenten Book Study: Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus is asked: “And who is my neighbor?” His response is to tell a story. This Lent, we are all invited to read a story—the story of a boy named Demon Copperhead. In this novel by Barbara Kingsolver, we are invited to recognize the humanity of people we seldom think about.

Lent is a time of self-examination for us as individuals and as a Christian community. Reading this novel gives us an opportunity to examine how we are seeing or not seeing, treating or mistreating by indifference and unintentional impact, our neighbors.

Barbara Kingsolver, an accomplished novelist, uses the template of Charles Dickens’ beloved novel “David Copperfield” and sets it in southwestern Virginia. Because she lives and works there, she offers a fresh take on Appalachian culture and the effects of economic inequality on our fellow Virginians.

How to Participate:

1. Five Thursdays in Lent: February 23, March 2, 16, 23, and 30 in the Ministry Center. You do not have to attend all 5 sessions. Registration recommended but not required.

6.30 p.m. Soup and Bread

7:00–8:00 p.m. Book Discussion

2. Monday, March 20, 7:00–8:00 p.m. with Book & Movie Club; Zoom link provided below.

3. In a small group (Open Circle, Discipleship Group, House Church) that chooses to read this using the Study Guide (provided below).

4. On your own, using the Study Guide (provided below).

Study Guide:

Note: The following Study Guide chapter questions are just suggestions. Let the conversation go where it needs to go!

Session 1: Read Chapters 1–19

1. How does Demon describe himself at the beginning of the novel? (eg, prizefighter, bastard, junkie, doomed, not a girl.) What does this tell us about how he feels about himself?

2. Family and friends play an important role in Demon’s life. Who does Demon consider his family? And who are his friends? How does being a Melungeon impact Demon?

3. What symbols from Scripture did you notice?

significance of his name (demon and snake)

ocean is the only thing that won’t swallow him alive (water)

4. Where do you see God in this story? What was Demon’s experience with church?

5. What does this story make you think about the world we live in?

Session 2: Read Chapters 20-31

1. How do the homes he lives in differ and how do they affect his view of family? (McCobbs, Aunt Betsy, Winfields)

2. Who are male role models for Demon and what does he learn from them?

3. How does Demon meet his basic needs for shelter, food, safety, emotional connection? What powers have influenced the economic and industrial history of Appalachia? How does this shape the characters? When, if ever, have your struggled with basic needs?

4. Where do you see God in this story?

5. What does this story make you think about the world we live in?

Session 3: Read Chapters 32-42

1. Who were the important women in Demon’s life and what does he learn from them?

2. Demon struggles to trust anyone, including those who want the best for him. How does he cope with disappointment? How do we cope with disappointment? Why are some people crushed by life and others not?

3. Kingsolver presents us with stereotypes about Appalachia. What stereotypes do we have about our Appalachian brothers and sisters?

Why do the Armstrongs choose to remain in Appalachia? How does race figure into this story?

4. Where do you see God in this story?

5. What does this story make you think about the world we live in?

Session 4: Read Chapters 43-53

1. What is important about drawing for Demon? How is art an important part of any life, even if one is not an artist?

2. Opioids play an outsized role in this story. What is unique about how opioids affect this population? How do we medicate ourselves in times of stress and tragedy?

3. Reflect on the relationship between Demon and Dori. Was it a blessing or a curse?

4. Where do you see God in this story? Is Jesus a superhero?

5. What does this story make you think about the world we live in?

Session 5: Read Chapters 54-end

1. Demon has a sense of personal honor that is an integral part of Appalachian culture. How does this guide his actions and power his will to survive, despite overwhelming messages that he is a worthless orphan?

2. From very early, Demon is on a quest to discover what it means to be a man who can respect himself, despite the fact that he has no father and almost no healthy male role models. How does Demon understand what it means to be a healthy man?

3. Many forms of trauma are experienced by characters in this novel. When and where in your life have you experienced trauma? How have you dealt with it?

4. What in this novel had the biggest impact on you? What do you see differently after reading this story? What does all this mean for us in Northern Virginia, as we try to reach out to at-risk young people? Are there parallels between the life of poor White boys in Appalachia and Black boys in DC?

5. Where is God in this story?

Additional Resources:

Book: “Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America” by Jim Webb. Learn more.

Book: “Of Boys and Men” by Richard Reeves: Non-fiction, well-balanced, policy-oriented book that speaks directly about the class and socio-economic inequities that strongly disadvantage boys and men like Demon. View summary video.

Film: “The Personal History of David Copperfield,” delightful 2019 film of Dickens’ novel, “David Copperfield.” Learn more.

NPR Interview: Barbara Kingsolver talks about the Dickensian influences in the novel, “Demon Copperhead.” Learn more.

Documentary: The Mask You Live In, 2015 film by the Representation Project follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity. Available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime and Vudu.

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