Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town: The Learning Resource

Six: The Beacon on the Hill

The Beacon on the Hill recounts the night that Mariposa’s Church of England Church burns to the ground. Citizens “fought the fire, not to save the church... but to stop the spread of it and save the town” (101). Thanks to the firefighting skills of Josh Smith, the fire is contained to the church and the wooden shed behind it. The town is saved, but questions linger about whether the fire was an accident or an act of arson: the church was insured for twice its replacement value.

Reading Questions

  1. What was Dean Drone doing when he notices that the church is on fire? Why are fires so dangerous in towns like Mariposa?

  2. Who is instrumental in keeping the fire from spreading? How does he do this?

  3. The day after the fire, the townsfolk survey the damage:
    ...they talked of the loss that it was and how many dollars it would take to rebuild the church, and whether it was insured and for how much. And there were at least fourteen people who had seen the fire first, and more than that who had given the first alarm, and ever so many who know how fires of this sort could be prevented. (104)
    Has there been a significant fire in your community? Did people react the same way?

  4. How much money is the church insured for?

  5. What is the “queer story” of how the fire started?

  6. What is the fate of Dean Drone?

  7. Pathos is the quality of evoking sympathy. It is an important aspect of Leacock’s approach to humour. How does pathos explain the closing line of “The Beacon on the Hill”?

Judicial Opinions

Deeper Understandings

Fiction and Literary Libel

In Depth

What is Revolution?