Necessary Lies Discussion Questions

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

'Necessary Lies' is a historical fiction novel by Diane Chamberlain about the American eugenics program in the mid-1900s. This resource provides discussion questions for classrooms reading this novel.

Necessary Lies

As they read Diane Chamberlain's Necessary Lies, many students may be surprised to learn about the horrific human rights abuses that took place in America into the 1960s. Although this novel is fiction, the practice of forced sterilization of poor and disabled citizens in an effort to 'improve' the population did occur. This novel tells the story of a family and their social worker, who is faced with making this decision for a young teenage girl. The following questions support classroom discussions for students who are reading this novel.

Jane and Ivy

This section contains questions about the main characters and setting that set the stage for the rest of the novel.

  • What is the setting of this story? How did the author choose this setting?
  • Describe Jane Forrester. How is Jane different from other young women of her time? In what ways are Jane and Robert compatible? How are they different? How might their marriage be different if it were to take place today?
  • What advice do others give Jane about taking the social worker position? Why does Jane reject their advice? What does this reveal about Jane? How do you decide when to listen to the advice of others?
  • Describe Ivy Hart. Who are the members of Ivy's family? Why does Ivy need support from social services? What type of support do you think she needs?
  • Who is Davison Gardiner? Why does he allow Ivy's family to live on the farm rent-free? Do you think this living arrangement is in the best interest of Ivy's family? Explain your reasoning.

Forced Sterilization

Using this section, students discuss Mary Ella's forced sterilization and Jane's reaction to it.

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