Meribah Simon starts her journey as part of an Amish family in Pennsylvania. Already there is discord, however, as her father is being shunned by the community, even by his family because he attended the funeral of a non-Amish friend. Meribah leaves the family when her father does to seek a life beyond those confines. The descrptions of their becoming a part of a wagon train heading to California as part of the gold rush contains many details and much information. Departing from St. Joseph, Meribah's father has many skills and gains much respect from their fellow travelers. Meribah, regarded as quaint and innocent, also has a measure of respect. When her father is injured, the wagon train goes on without them and they become victims to the cruelty. Villains and heroes merge and exchange roles as the thirst for gold takes over.
The idea of shunning is exhibited in many cultures and situtations although not always as formally as it is in this Amish culture. Indeed, Meribah and her father find its equivalent on the wagon train. Students might search for ways in which more subtle shunning exists in their own circles and the way they treat nonconformists.
Besides the obvious step of reading other wagon train stories and researching the era of Westward Expansion, we can look at the group dynamics evidenced here. Meribah's anger at injustice starts where the book does with the shunning of her father and continues as the people in the wagon train deal with the rape of the young woman and the illness of her father. An examination of the needs of the group, the contribution of the individuals and the places where group and individual needs clash might make an interesting study.
The title Beyond the Divide is more than the place in the mountains; it is a symbol for the divisions throughout the book. Finding and delineating those instances will provide another way of analyzing the plot.
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In Times Past
by Carol Hurst and Rebecca Otis
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