Alice Walker, To Hell with Dying

Mr. Sweet’s health is failing and he has been at death’s door on a few occasions but there is a way to save him. What is the secret behind his ability to face death?


Walker, To Hell with Dying

Walker, To Hell with Dying (with highlights)

Walker, To Hell with Dying (vocabulary)

Vocabulary Games

Word Search

Crossword (nouns and adjectives)

Crossword (verbs and adverbs)

Hangman (phrases)

Discussion Questions

  • What do you think of Mr. Sweet’s “deaths”? Why might he be on the verge of death constantly, or if he is not, why would he play up these episodes?
  • How does Walker portray Mr. Sweet’s mental illness, and eventually his physical illnesses? How does this compare to other portrayals of illness that we’ve read over the course of the semester?
  • Why does Mr. Sweet not require a doctor? What do you make of the relative absence of medical professionals in this story, compared with others we’ve read over the semester?
  • What do you make of the relationship between Mr. Sweet and the narrator (and the other children in the story)? 
  • Why might Mr. Sweet wake up when kissed and tickled by a child?
  • What do you think became of Mr. Sweet’s son after Miss Mary died? Why is he mostly absent from the story when Mr. Sweet has such a close relationship with the neighbor children?
  • Further, what do you make of his and his wife’s inability to have the same connection with his own son, or at least of their parenting failure, their own son’s inability to thrive, or Mr. Sweet’s disconnect from his own son (who is never mentioned as contributing to his revival)?
  • What do you notice about the tone of the story? Does it change at all? If so, how?
  • What are some observations you made about the language used in the story (i.e. symbolism, slang, imagery, etc.) What do you think this adds to the story?
  • The narrator feels great affection for Mr. Sweet. She wishes she “could have been old enough to be the woman he loved so much” (2) and calls him her “first love” (5). What do you make of this?

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