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Discussion Questions

  1. Picking Cotton switches between two narrators, Jennifer and Ronald, sometimes describing the same situation from each of their perspectives. Evaluate the use of this structure. What does it add to the story? Are there any disadvantages to this kind of storytelling device? 
  2. How is Jennifer treated in the aftermath of her rape and by the prosecuting attorney? How does this treatment contribute to her feelings about her experience? 
  3. How does Jennifer’s determination to “do a good job” in finding her attacker ultimately lead to her identify the wrong man? 
  4. How do racial ideology and assumptions lead to Ronald’s conviction? How does his background make him vulnerable as a suspect? 
  5. How does Ronald describe prison? How does he manage to survive both physically and emotionally? What most surprised you about his prison experiences? 
  6. Both Jennifer and Ronald spend a lot of time contemplating the idea of forgiveness. How does the theme of forgiveness shape the book? What does Jennifer mean when she writes: “Forgiveness is tricky.   People think when you forgive someone, you excuse what he did. That’s not what it is. It’s about power and letting go”  (p. 252) 
  7. Why does Jennifer write Bobby Poole? Would you have done this? How does she change her thinking about him after working for SCAN? 
  8. Did reading the book change how you think about eyewitness testimony, protections for accused criminals or the death penalty? Why or why not? 
  9. On the basis of what evidence is Ronald convicted? What are the problems with these kinds of evidence? Although DNA evidence eventually leads to his exoneration, it too has limitations – what are they? What does it take to finally overturn Ronald’s?

 

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