Sunday, April 12, 2009

Uncle Tom's Cabin

Here are some discussion questions for Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe:

1. Uncle Tom's Cabin is often described, nowadays, as condescending. Do you agree with that assessment? Why (not)?

2. Being labeled an Uncle Tom is now considered an insult in the African American community, do you agree with that assessment of the character of Tom? Why (not)? Some people have described Tom as the first African American hero of literature, what actions did he take that make him a "hero"? Conversely what actions did he take that may cause him to be looked down upon?

3. The first two questions bring up an issue relating to all historical literature, what point of view should we use when reading literature? What harm or benefit could come from reading Uncle Tom's Cabin through a strictly modern viewpoint?

4. In the novel we are introduced to three different masters (there are other masters that get less airtime) and two of those masters are kind and loving to their slaves. Why do you think the author had the majority of the masters be kindly? How did the device of using kindly masters make you feel about slavery? The argument is explicitly made in the book that it is the kind masters that are the worst thing for slavery because it is they who make opposition more difficult, what are your thoughts on this argument?

5. Simon Legree along with George Harris's master are portrayed as irrational persons who act only on emotion with no care for their economic standing. Why do you think the author portrayed these individuals as irrational?

6. This is a novel with a very clear political message. Was this message forcefully portrayed? Why do you say that? Were there times in the novel when the message distracted from the story or where the story strayed from the message? Examples?

7. The ending of the book almost had a Dickensian quality to it, in terms of coincidences, lost identities, etc. How did this benefit the narrative?

8. Who was your favorite character and why?

9. Master St. Clare was depicted as a good man that had been spiritually destroyed by the culture of the south, why do you think it was important for the author to include depictions of the damage slavery had on white culture?

10. Almost all white characters in the novel (excepting Eva St. Clare and the Quakers) are depicted as racist (including the abolitionists) what was the author trying to convey by these depictions?

11. The author also clearly demonstrates that the only way to overcome racism, anger, pain, bitterness is through the redemption of Jesus Christ. In modern times such an overtly religious message in a novel is unusual, did this message affect your opinion of the novel? Why?

12. The novel contains several examples, the most prominent being that of the Ohio legislator, who believe one thing, but when faced with the actual consequences and personal experiences, their hearts are changed. Why do you think hearts are more readily changed, sometimes, by experience? Why does reason not always result in the best way? Or does it?

NOTE: I LOVED this book. I had never read it before, and I couldn't believe that in all the history and literature classes I have taken that it was never read. The story was excellent and fast moving. I was very moved by this book.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

To Kill A Mockingbird

Here are some discussion questions for To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee:

1. What is the theme of this book?

2. The main action and storyline of the book appears to be the trial of Tom Robinson, yet the story starts years before this issue began. Why are the years preceding the Tom Robinson incident important to the theme of the book? What do those years addd to the Robinson trial and what the characters learn from that trial?

3. Throughout the novel a number of unlikable characters show themselves to be heroic in different ways, including Mrs. Dubose, Auntie, and Dolphus Raymond. Why do you think Lee included these aspects of those characters in her novel? Did it help advance her theme and the story or was it distracting?

4. Lee appeared to be writing about a society that was clinging to the past, but was slowly changing its values in spite of itself--do you think her book was proposing that slow and deliberate change was an effective method of advancing various causes?

5. Why was Atticus so unwilling to let his children know that he was a dead-shot?

6. Why does Boo Radley constitute the beginning and end of the novel? What, if anything, does he symbolize? What does he teach the children, and, what does he teach us?

7. Why is Atticus's description of heroes (knowing you're licked before you start, but starting anyway)so important in advancing the theme of the book? How does Atticus's description of heroes apply to Maudie Atkinson's statements regarding the length of time the jury took to convict Robinson?

8. One of the recurring themes is the need to walk in others' shoes, how does this apply to the overall theme of the book?

9. Why is this novel still so well regarded?

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Here are some discussion questions for 1984 by George Orwell:

1. This novel was written prior to most autobiographical accounts of totalitarian regimes, do you think now that we have first hand accounts that it has weakened Orwell's novel, why(not)?

2. 1984 revolves around the life of an individual that whose principal duty is to change history to match current propaganda. Why is the change of history so important? Do you think that this happens currently in free countries? How can we protect against having history changed?

3. One of Winston's early rebellions is sexual rebellion. Why do you think that Orwell placed such an emphasis on sexual rebellion? Do you think Orwell's attack on the sexual repression found in Oceania is an attack on the influence of any organization that promotes chastity or abstinence? Why(not)?

4. Oceania is constantly at war. Why do you think Orwell felt it necessary for his totalitarian society to always have an enemy?

5. Why is the government insistent that you love "Big Brother" before destroying you? What similarities do you see of this type of belief and political structure in the real world?

6. Orwell was a Democratic Socialist, and stated that he believed in socialism, yet the repressive regime is socialist. Does socialism lend itself to these abuses more than other forms of government? Can control be gained thorugh other methods than surveillance and fear?

Anyway, these questions might not be too good. It only took me five months to get around to writing them.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Believer by Stephanie Black

Here are some discussion questions for The Believer by Stephanie Black. WARNING if you have not read the book, the questions contain spoilers.

1. Black creates a future where the United States has been separated without a war. Do you feel that her depiction of the reasons and nature of the separation are believable?

2. Ian Roshek is depicted as a man struggling to do the right thing in the face of impossible odds. Do you feel that Black's characterization of Ian is believable? Was he too good? Or did you feel like he struggled in a way similar to how you would struggle under similar circumstances?

3. Black's reasoning why the government of New America needed to ban religion was so that the government could have final say over what is right and wrong/good or bad. Do you agree with Black's assessment? If we do not have religion, what would determine the basis of right and wrong? Does the abolishment of religion grant more power to the government? Does the abolishment of religion weaken the minds of the citizens of a nation?

4. Does Zero really care about the security of New America or is he entirely self interested?

5. Do you agree with Black's assertion that terrorism often is self-defeating, in that it creates more power for those whom it is seeking to weaken? Examples from the real world?

6. In our current lives it may be difficult to imagine an America where freeedoms are so limited and the treatment of others so brutal, but the world has seen much worse in many other societies. What is it that keeps us from tipping over the edge into the world that Black creates? What separates us from, say, Rwanda, Khmer Rouge Cambodia, Maoist China, Nazi Germany, or Stalinist USSR?

7. How would you compare this novel to other LDS futuristic fiction?

8. Black uses futuristic fiction with LDS themes without getting embroiled in end of day prophecies, does this enhance or detract from her work?

9. Is Alisa Kent's character arc believable?

The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams

The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams is one of my favorite works of literature. In fact, I remember being completely blown away the first time I read it. That being said, here are some discussion questions for The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams:

1. This play is written in an unrealistic style. There are pictures and sayings that are supposed to be projected behind the actors onstage, and background music is written into the stage directions. Why do you think Williams makes such an effort to keep the audience aware of the presentation aspects of this work? Is Williams specifically trying to avoid a realist approach? If so, do you think a realistic approach would give more weight to Menagerie?

2. Williams has Tom, narrate Menagerie does the theatrical device of a narrator help or hinder the action in the play?

3. Tom states in his 0pening speech, "I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion." What does that mean? Is Williams indicating that truth about life is easier to learn through allegory? If so is that true? What allegories have helped you understand truth?

4. Tom also states that this is a "memory play" and as such the things seen are not as they precisely happened, but as they are remembered. If that is the case, why is the play so depressing? Do our memories make the past happier or more depressing? Why would Tom's memories of the events depicted in the play be worse than they actually were?

5. The Wingfield family lives in dreams. How are each of the Wingfields' dreams different, and at the same time how do each of their dreams lead them to the same place?

6. Amanda is caught in a past that never existed, as she tells stories of her youth. Is nostalgia, heightened as it is by Amanda, a damning force in our lives, or can it be an effective motivator for the future? What is it for Amanda.

7. Laura is lost in a world of imagination, how is her world different than the world Amanda has constructed for herself? Is it more/less damning?

8. Tom is lost in a world of adventure and poetry that does not exist, but which eventually compels him to leave his home and family, how can deferred dreams destroy relationships and our lives? Clearly, we need ambition, we need dreams to move forward in our lives, without risktakers we would not make it to where we are, so what is the difference between the Wingfield's whose dreams ultimately destroy themselves, and those whose dreams compel them to greater heights?

9. Why is it important that Laura is portrayed as unique, with the symbolism of the glass unicorn and "blue roses"? Is Williams making a statement about society's treatment of those who are different? Would Laura have been happier if she had been more like everyone else, just as she tries to say the unicorn was happier after he lost his horn? Laura's uniqueness brings her sorrow, but Amanda's attempts to integrate Laura into society through secretarial school, suitors, etc. force Laura into a deeper sorrow, is Williams stating that in our present society that there really is no place where those who are truly unique can be happy because they are either ostracized or they are forced to conform?

10. It is often said that The Glass Menagerie is an autobiographical play. If that is the case, how does it change your view of Tom and his reasons for remembering his life as depicted in the play.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

La dama del alba by Alejandro Casona

Here are some discussion questions for La dama del alba by Alejandro Casona. I don't think this play has ever been translated to English, so this is for Spanish speakers only.

1. The opening scene description describes the location as being "sin tiempo" or without time, do you think the lack of a specific period of time helps Casona to focus on the theme? Do you think the specificity that the play takes place in a place "sin tiempo" was meant to immediately convey the feeling that the themes of this work are univeral to time and place?
2. What do you think Casona is trying to say as the children literally play with "Death"? Is Casona making a statement regarding our lives and their constant fragility? Is the fun that the children have demonstrative of their innocence or of their faith that all things about life, including death, are inherently good?
3. Death is portrayed as a beautiful woman. Do you agree with this embodiment, or do you find preferable the normal anglo-american version of death as a the "grim reaper"? What does the portrayal of death as a beautiful woman say about Casona's views?
4. The only time death is allowed to feel life is when she laughs with the children. Death later speaks of the feelings of sorrow, love, and other emotions she has experienced, why then was only laughter able to bring her life?
5. Death explains that the only time she has ever felt life was while playing with the children. Why is it that only children were able to realize a miracle so amazing as to bring death to life?
6. In Death's argument with Abuelo she states that life cannot exist without death, do you agree? Why?
7. Death tells Adela that "Cada hora tiene su verdad" or that "each hour has its truth". Do you agree? Are there things that are true now that aren't true later? Give examples.
8. While Death is convincing Angelica to kill herself, she tells her that beauty is also truth, do you agree? Are some things true simply because they are beautiful?
9. One of Casona's themes appears to be a belief that a beautiful legend or myth can be of more importance than harsh reality, do you agree? Do you agree that there are some myths that better serve the public good than the sordid truth behind them? Can we as a society be made stronger through belief in myths or are we always stronger for facing the truth, no matter how ugly?
10. Most of us don't believe suicide is an acceptable form of escaping our problems; however Angelica's eventual suicide brings the ultimate happiness to all members of the family. Be honest, were you hoping that Angelica commits suicide? Why? Was this in direct contrast to your own moral code?

Fool Me Twice by Stephanie Black

Here are some discussion questions for Fool Me Twice by Stephanie Black:
1. "Evil twins" seem to invoke thoughts of bad soap operas, did Black's use of the "evil twin" work?
2. One of the keys to effective writing is having well-rounded characters. Does Black present well-rounded characterizations for all her characters? If not, what characters were lacking needed characterization? If yes, how did full characters help the tension and action in the plot?
3. One of the more interesting aspects of the book, was Aunt Evelyn's documentation of her plan from the beginning, does this character attribute/flaw work for you? Why? Is this a well-planned deus ex machina for easy wrap-up or was Evelyn's idiosyncracy believably portrayed?
4. One of the themes explored in Fool Me Twice is self-awareness, how does Black pursue this theme? Megan's self-awareness grows at the same time as her awareness of those around her increases. Is this the case with life, do we know ourselves as we come to truly know others? Does Megan's inability to see Kristen for who she really is indicate Kristen's ability to manipulate, or Megan's inability to be true to who she really is? What events specifically allowed Megan to see Kristen as she really is? Was Megan's growth and transition to strength realistic? Why(not)?
5. Trevor has been labled by one reviewer as a "Dudley Do Right" do you agree?
6. The climax of Fool Me Twice has Megan facing off against Kristen alone, do you think this was necessary for Megan's character development? Did you find Black's device of the reluctant neighbor an effective strategy for having Megan and Kristen face each other alone?
7. Kristen moves pretty quickly from kidnapper to murderess when she kills Gail Ludlum, was this extra step believable? What does Kristen's rapid transformation show us about the fragility of our own law-abiding existence? Is it true that each step down a path becomes easier? What do Kristen's actions teach us about the power of the desire to not be caught? From a religious standpoint, how can Kristen's attempts to cover-up her acts, and its results, show us the importance of confession?
8. Both Pamela and Kristen are shown as self-centered individuals, what is the difference between being self-centered and being self-aware? How can we come to know ourselves without being focused on ourselves? Is Black making a statement on the power of service and outward focus that Megan only realizes her strength and who she and others are when she is completely focused on others' needs? If this is the case, why didn't Megan's constant willingness to help Pamela result in a similar self-awareness?
9. What is the difference between service and slavery?Enjoy