Salt-Water Moon

Discussion Questions


The late 1920s was a difficult time for Canada, and one which eventually led to the Great Depression. It was most difficult in isolated communities to find work, and Newfoundland was particularly hard hit. Many families were torn apart when sons and fathers, or whole families, left the island to find work. Can you think of a similar situations elsewhere in the world today, where lack of economic opportunity in one area causes families to split apart in order to find work?  Is it ever a good idea for the husband or wife (or both parents) to leave the rest of the family behind to do so?

Newfoundland and Labrador has a rich tradition of arts and culture. Can you think of any famous television or radio personalities, music groups or other arts groups from Newfoundland and Labrador?

Newfoundland was the last province to join Confederation (in 1949). At the time Salt-Water Moon is set, Newfoundland was an independent colony within the British Empire. Fifty-two percent of the population opted to join Canada. What would some of the advantages for Newfoundland have been? What about disadvantages? Many important decisions are made through referendums that only require 50% of the vote. Is 50% high enough, or should it be 75% (or some other percentage) when it comes to questions affecting the future of an entire province?

David French's plays have been described as tales of everyday Canadians, written in their own language. What elements of a love story set in 1926, in a small village in Newfoundland, do you think will be relevant to you today? (Note to teacher: This might be worth discussing again after the play, and in light of the Featured Artist interview question about the play's relevance.)

Many young men from Newfoundland volunteered to fight in World War I, including Jacob Mercer's father. A lot of them enlisted because it was possible to make more money in the army than on fishing boats. Prime Minister Robert Borden won the 1917 election and introduced conscription. Not many Canadians were conscripted, and even fewer were sent to the front. The country was divided, and Quebec was particularly opposed to conscription. The question of conscription came up again during WWII and was equally controversial, and divided along French/English cultural lines. Some countries today require military service of various lengths and types. Do you think military service should be voluntary, or obligatory? What about for women? Why or why not?


How do you feel about Jacob's decision to leave Mary without telling her, or saying good-bye? Do you think she was right to take him back? Was he right to leave the way he did?

There are examples of different kinds of courage and heroism alluded to throughout the play. Consider the following events:

  • the soldiers who stormed Beaumont-Hamel and sacrificed their lives
  • Jacob's decision to leave home to find work in Toronto
  • Mary's decision to marry Jerome, so as to be able to look after her sister
  • Mary's decision, at the end of the play, to leave Jerome for Jacob
  • Jacob's father rocking the cradle on the front porch

Sometimes doing nothing can be as courageous as taking action. Do you think the people in the examples above acted courageously? Can you think of other examples of courage or heroism from the play? What about Mary's sister Dot, enduring the punishment at the Home in silence? What makes a person a hero?

Compare Jacob and Mary's behaviour during the play. Jacob's character has been described as direct, controlling and take-charge. Mary has been described as reactive, and unconscious (loving Jacob "against her will").  Reviews of the play have also described Mary as spunky and feisty. Can you think of scenes or lines from the play that support any of these descriptions? What do you think about their characters?

Jacob and Mary go to see a tooth charmer to get rid of his toothache. They also talk about ghosts, St. Elmo's Fire, the Man in the Moon, a Jackie Lantern, etc. What superstitions do we still hold today? What folk remedies, if any, do you know of or use?

The stage directions to the play say that "some indication of [a] road should be on the set, though it need not be realistic" (page 2, Salt-Water Moon). How did the production you just saw incorporate the road into the set? What does the road represent to Jacob and Mary?

What is the point of astronomy in the play? How does the playwright use it to distinguish between Jacob and Jerome? Jacob pretends not to know about constellations. Does he know more than he lets on?