Discussion Chapters, Discussion and Questions

Chapter 1-“All Souls’ Night”: Time: 1994 Discussion and Questions

Discussion Study Guide for All Souls by                                                                                                       Name_____________________

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Discussion and Questions

  1. In your own words describe where Michael found “the kids” during his walk through Southie.  Discussion.





  1. Explain what Michael meant when he wrote that people in Southie had considered each other to be “family.”






  1. What was the “outsider’s” image of Southie?






  1. According to Michael, in what way did the Boston media allow Whitey Bulger’s activities to be “invisible”?





  1. What were some of the reasons Michael felt compelled to “disguise” himself as he walked through Southie?





  1. In your own words explain some of Michael’s inner conflicts about Southie.





  1. Be specific in describing the negative and positive reactions of South Boston residents to the article in U.S. News &World Report.







  1. Explain the irony of the beliefs people Michael knew in Southie held about black people.









  1. Read and be ready to discuss


Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.”


TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;         5
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,         10
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.         15
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.         20


“The Dream of Now” by W. Stafford.


When you wake to the dream of now

from night and its other dream,

you carry day out of the dark

like a flame.


When spring comes north, and flowers

unfold from earth and its even sleep,

you lift summer on with your breath

lest it be lost ever so deep.


Your life you live by the light you find

and follow it on as well as you can,

carrying through darkness wherever you go

your one little fire that will start again.





Chapter 2-“Freedoms”: Time: 1960s Discussion and Questions

  1. Provide 2 quotes from the text as evidence from events described that violence is a “constant” from the early years of the MacDonald children’s lives.







  1. Provide 2 quotes from the text evidence from events that show Michael also found humor in some of his family’s experiences.








  1. Explain 2 examples that foreshadow Kevin was a “born provider.”









  1. Life with Ma in 1967 in Jamaica Plain allowed the MacDonald children numerous freedoms. Describe 3 of these “freedoms.”











  1. Provide at least 3 differences in Michael’s relationship with his mother (which were significantly different than his siblings) that he describes in the second half of this chapter.











  1. Describe:
a) events that led to Davey’s admittance to the Mass Mental facility;
b) the conditions that Michael witnesses at Mass Mental.







  1. Why is this chapter entitled, “Freedoms”?


Chapter 3-“Ghetto Heaven”: Time: 1973

Discussion and Questions

  1. Explain some of the key lessons regarding blacks and whites Ma had learned while living in Jamaica Plain.





  1. Ma called it “heaven,” yet 8 Patterson Way in the Old Colony Project had its drawbacks and its own “street rules.” Describe the realities, the violence, the initiations as they affected these MacDonalds: Michael, Mary, Johnnie, Joe, Frankie, and Ma.



















  1. Michael describes a class hierarchy that existed in Southie (pages 60-62).
 Describe it.



  1. Members of the MacDonald family have become involved in various activities now that they have moved into Southie. List the key activities of Joe, Kathy, Frankie, Kevin, Mary, and Michael.



















  1. In this chapter Michael writes that he believed “There’s no place like Old Colony.” What examples does Michael give to support this statement (provide at least 2 with page numbers)?

Chapter 4-“Fight the Power”: Time: Early to mid-1970s Discussion and Questions

  1. Throughout this chapter Michael expresses his very conflicted feelings about the events he witnesses in Southie, his siblings’ and neighbors’ actions, and his own behavior. Give an example of an event about which he feels conflicted and why (include page number).
Positive Negative














  1. The busing incidents affected members of the MacDonald family in various ways. Write down the names of the following characters and a one-sentence explanation of the effect of the busing incidents on each. Be specific in listing what is happening to Kevin, Kathy, Frankie, Mary, Ma and Coley, and Davey. Provide page numbers!









  1. At the close of this chapter Davey, who admits to his own paranoia, states: “They don’t want you to know what the enemy looks like, so you can end up killing each other, or yourself, in the frenzy. You become your own worst enemy!” 

Who is the enemy (both real and/or perceived)? Explain your answer.








Chapter 5-“Looking for Whitey”: Time: 1975-1978

Discussion and Questions

  1. Discuss how the arrival of Seamus, his baby brother, affects Michael’s attitude regarding South Boston.








  1. Michael writes, ” No one made us feel better about where we lived than Whitey Bulger . . . He was the king of Southie.” Be specific in listing both the reasons and the evidence that Whitey had more power than elected politicians. Provide page numbers.
Reasons and evidence Bulger has more power than elected politicians Page Numbers












  1. In your own words describe how at the age of twelve Kevin is introduced to the drug trade and what some of the specific results are of this involvement.
How is Kevin introduced to the drug trade?

(Cite page numbers)

What are specific results of his involvement?

(Cite page numbers)







  1. The busing situation means that Joe now attends Charlestown High School. Discuss how this switches from being a positive to a negative experience




  1. * Explain what is now happening in the lives of these MacDonald family members: Michael, who is ten years old; Kevin, who is now in the eighth grade; Kathy, who is a teenager; Davey, who is twenty-two; Joe, who is twenty-one; and Ma.
Michael,  10  


Kevin, 8th grade  


Kathy, teenager  


Davey, 22  


Joe, 21  





  1. Contrast two incidents involving drugs, one concerning Michael and the other Kevin.
Michael Kevin


















Chapter 6-“August”: Time: 1979 Discussion and Questions

  1. Michael writes the he “still felt comforted by the popular line that Southie was the one place ‘where everyone looks out for each other.'” After you read this chapter choose one of the following pairs and provide evidence that their actions prove Michael’s statement.
a) Ma and Kathy
b) Michael and Davey
c) Frankie and Kevin
d) Frankie and Davey
e) Michael and Seamus and Stevie

Evidence and page number:_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


  1. After reading the final pages of chapter 6, write a reflection regarding Davey that includes the following:
  2. a) foreshadowing in earlier incidents;
  3. b) Davey’s religious images and their significance;
  4. c) the evidence Michael found on the roof;
  5. d) Michael’s guilt;
  6. e) your own thoughts and feelings.






Chapter 7-“Holy Water”: Time: Early 1980s Discussion and Questions


  1. Michael writes that Ma was tough, and there are numerous incidents in the book that prove her emotional and physical strength. List 3 incidents that you found most significant and explain their importance.








  1. Although Michael tells people that “Old Colony was the greatest,” there is powerful evidence that Old Colony is, in fact, a dangerous place. List some events to support this fact.





  1. Be specific in describing some of the effects drugs have
  2. a) on young members of the South Boston neighborhood;





  1. b) on Kathy MacDonald.





  1. As this chapter closes Kathy is in rehabilitation learning how to walk again. There is tragic irony in the destination of these “walks.” Explain.





Chapter 8-“Stand-Up Guy”: Time: 1980s Discussion and Questions


  1. Make a comparison chart indicating how Frankie and Kevin seem to be heading in dramatically different directions in life.
Frankie Kevin








  1. “No one was more powerful than Whitey,” Michael writes. As you read chapter 8 list at least 3 of the illegal activities involving Whitey Bulger. Provide page numbers!








  1. In Michael’s second book, Easter Rising, he credits music as a positive influence on his life. What do you learn in chapter 8 about his other early influences?


  1. Provide evidence that at this point in their lives, Johnnie, Joe, Kevin, and Frankie seem to be “getting out” of the negative aspects of their neighborhood.







  1. July 17, 1984, Ma’s fiftieth birthday, ironically brings one of the MacDonald family’s worst tragedies. What happened? Be very specific.



* Read and discuss “On Turning Ten” by Billy Collins.

On Turning Ten

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I’m coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light–
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

  1. How does this poem relate to Michael’s life?
  2. How can you make connections between this poem and yourself, other texts, or the world?

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.


Chapter 9-“Exile”: Time: Late 1980s-early 1990s Discussion and questions

  1. “Ma was on a mission,” Michael writes. Explain at least three of the positive ways Ma tries to stave off the sorrow for her deceased children.






  1. Describe Michael’s dream. In what eerie way does it haunt him and also affect his desire to “just come and go in this neighborhood”?



  1. “South Boston has one of the lowest rates of reported crime in the city, along with Charlestown and East Boston.” WHY?



  1. During the 1980s the facts and the fiction of Whitey Bulger’s “protection” of and concern for Southie began to be exposed. Create a chart that separates some of the fiction once believed and the facts being revealed.
Fiction Facts











  1. In this chapter Michael describes the complex issues that resulted from what was deemed “forced housing.” Prepare a list of these issues for a class discussion.










Chapter 10-“Justice”: Mid-1990s

Discussion and Questions

  1. Discuss the evidence that Johnnie had “gotten out” of Southie and also the reasons he got “pulled” back into Old Colony.





  1. Michael writes, “Charles Stephenson helped restore my faith.” List the evidence revealed by this diligent attorney that resulted in Stevie’s exoneration. Michael calls Charles Stephenson the only example he’d ever seen of what it means to be a father. Is Stephenson as the only adult male hero in the book?



Chapter 11-“Vigil”: Time: 1996

Discussion and Questions


  1. Discuss the positive and negative effects of gentrification (look it up) in South Boston.






  1. How is Michael able to finally “see” his lost siblings at the All Souls vigil?




Additional Critical-Thinking Assignments

Read, annotate, and discuss “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters.”


Autobiography in Five Short Chapters by Portia Nelson



I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost … I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.



I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place
but, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.



I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit.
my eyes are open
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.



I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.



I walk down another street.



  1. Individually, write your own autobiography in five chapters.
  2. In groups, share and discuss. Write an autobiography in 5 chapters for one of the characters.


Read the excerpt from the poem “The People, Yes” written in 1936 by Carl Sandburg.

  1. Make a list of ten different lines that connect to various “people” in All Souls and explain these connections.
  2. Choose a stanza to use as the inspiration for creating an illustration that connects Carl Sandburg’s poem to Michael MacDonald’s memoir. Explain these connections to the class.


Excerpt from the poem “The People, Yes”



The people yes

The people will live on.

The learning and blundering people will live on.

They will be tricked and sold and again sold

And go back to the nourishing earth for rootholds,

The people so peculiar in renewal and comeback,

You can’t laugh off their capacity to take it.

The mammoth rests between his cyclonic dramas.


The people so often sleepy, weary, enigmatic,

is a vast huddle with many units saying:

“I earn my living.

I make enough to get by

and it takes all my time.

If I had more time

I could do more for myself

and maybe for others.

I could read and study

and talk things over

and find out about things.

It takes time.

I wish I had the time.”


The people is a tragic and comic two-face: hero and hoodlum:

phantom and gorilla twisting to moan with a gargoyle mouth:

“They buy me and sell me…it’s a game…sometime I’ll

break loose…”


Once having marched

Over the margins of animal necessity,

Over the grim line of sheer subsistence

Then man came

To the deeper rituals of his bones,

To the lights lighter than any bones,

To the time for thinking things over,

To the dance, the song, the story,

Or the hours given over to dreaming,

Once having so marched.


Between the finite limitations of the five senses

and the endless yearnings of man for the beyond

the people hold to the humdrum bidding of work and food

while reaching out when it comes their way

for lights beyond the prison of the five senses,

for keepsakes lasting beyond any hunger or death.

This reaching is alive.

The panderers and liars have violated and smutted it.

Yet this reaching is alive yet

for lights and keepsakes.


The people know the salt of the sea

and the strength of the winds

lashing the corners of the earth.

The people take the earth

as a tomb of rest and a cradle of hope.

Who else speaks for the Family of Man?

They are in tune and step

with constellations of universal law.

The people is a polychrome,

a spectrum and a prism

held in a moving monolith,

a console organ of changing themes,

a clavilux of color poems

wherein the sea offers fog

and the fog moves off in rain

and the labrador sunset shortens

to a nocturne of clear stars

serene over the shot spray

of northern lights.


The steel mill sky is alive.

The fire breaks white and zigzag

shot on a gun-metal gloaming.

Man is a long time coming.

Man will yet win.

Brother may yet line up with brother;


This old anvil laughs at many broken hammers.

There are men who can’t be bought.

The fireborn are at home in fire.

The stars make no noise,

You can’t hinder the wind from blowing.

Time is a great teacher.

Who can live without hope?


In the darkness with a great bundle of grief

the people march.

In the night, and overhead a shovel of stars for keeps, the people


“Where to? what next?”

Discussion and Questions

Discussion Chapters

Last Updated on September 14, 2019 by Essay Pro