Ann Petry’s

“Like a Winding Sheet” (1946):

Reading Questions


1. What do we know about Johnson and his wife Mae at the beginning of the story?  What type of relationship do they have?  What kind of man does he come across as?

2. What causes the protagonist to change his temperament and become violent?  Does it make any difference to be able to identify the reasons for his personality change?  Why?

3. Who is the focalizer of the story?  Why do you think Petry chose to tell the story from that perspective?

4. Why does Petry choose to be so graphic and detailed about Johnson’s (real and imagined) physical violence?

5. Who do you sympathize with in the story?  Why?

6. Why does Johnson hit his wife?  Why does he manage to control himself with the other (white) women, but not with his wife?

7. What do you think will/could happen after Johnson beats up Mae?  How will this affect their relationship?  What are Mae’s options?  And Johnson’s?  Would this options be different if the story had happened in present-day society?

8. What is the significance of the title of the story?  Why does Petry choose such a title?  What does it mean?