Generic Book Group Questions

Title: 

How does the title help you understand the book better? Would your reading or understanding of the book change if the title were different? Could you think of alternate titles for the story? Does the title refer to another piece or literature or a religious figure or symbol?

  • Wide Sargasso Sea: The novel’s first working title was “The First Mrs. Rochester”, followed by “False Legend” and “Solitaire”.  Rhys also titled it, “What the Hell or Where’s Jane.”  Would a different title have changed your reading of the novel?  Do you like any of these titles better?

Epigraph:  

How would you compare the epigraph to the book as a whole, a specific character, or a theme of the story?   

  • An Unfinished Life:  Why do you think Spragg chose to add an epigraph to the beginning of the book? How would you compare the epigraph (excerpt from poem “Not Dying” by Mark Strand) to the book as a whole, a specific character, or a theme of the story?   

Characters: 

Compare two or more characters.  How are their personalities or situations similar?  How are they different?  Which character do you think changes the most in the book and why?  Who is your favorite character and why?  Are the characters well-rounded or one-dimensional?    

  • Persuasion:  Are Captain Benwick’s and Anne’s situations similar?  What do they both regret?  How do they both use literature to cope with their grief?   

Point of View: 

From whose viewpoint is the story being told?  Would the story have been more effective if it had been from a different character’s viewpoint?  Which character and why?  Do you think that the narrator is reliable?  What biases does the narrator have?  If the novel has several narrators which one do you think is the best and why?

  • Jean Rhys wrote about point of view in Wide Sargasso Sea: “It can be done three ways.  (1) Straight. Childhood. Marriage.  Finale told in first person.  Or it can be done (2) Man’s point of view; (3) Woman’s ditto both first person.  Or it can be told in the third person with the writer as the Almighty.  Well that is hard for me.  I prefer direct thoughts and actions.  I am doing (2)” (Letters 162).  Although Rhys claims that the story is written from the man’s point of view, Antoinette is clearly the narrator in the first and third sections.  Rochester (or the unnamed man) is the narrator of the second section with a few subtle shifts when the story is again told from Antoinette’s point of view.  Do you think the overall point of view is masculine or feminine?  Is it ever hard to establish whose point of view the story is being told from?

Setting/Place: 

How does the location affect the story?  How is the setting a character?    

  • I Heard the Owl Call My Name:  The Bishop says, “But there is one thing you must understand.  They will not thank you.  Even if you should leave a broken man, they will not thank you.  There is no word for thank you in Kwakwala” (p. 20).  Why do you think there is no word for “thank you”?  Does the village of Kingcome show their appreciation in other ways?

Setting/Time: 

What historical events are portrayed in the story?  What historical events happened at the same time that weren’t included?  Is the story set in one time period or many?        

  • The River Between Us: Why do you think Richard Peck chose to begin (and end) a story about the Civil War in 1916?  What is the purpose of the frame?

Plot: 

Is the story believable?  Do any of the plot twists seem contrived?  Did you like the ending?

  • The Whistling Season:  Kirkus Reviews commented, “The melodrama [Rose and Morrie’s dishonest past] is a weak ending for a novel that had so far avoided it.”  What did you think of the ending? 

Symbolism: 

Who or what is symbolic?

  • Jane Eyre:  Matthew 18: 9 “And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.”  Is it a coincidence or biblical symbolism that Rochester only has one eye and one hand after the fire?

Author: 

To what extent is the novel autobiographical? 

  • Jane Eyre is subtitled An Autobiography.  Although Jane Eyre is a work of fiction, Charlotte Bronte based several characters and places from her own childhood.  In 1824, Charlotte and her sisters were sent to Clergy Daughters School at Cowan Bridge, Yorkshire ran by a Rev. Silas Wilson.  Charlotte Bronte described similar harsh conditions in her fictionalized school Lowood with hypocritical Mr. Brocklehurst as the director.  Charlotte Bronte’s elder sisters Maria and Elizabeth Bronte both died of tuberculosis as result of school conditions.  Maria Bronte is thought to be the real life version of Helen Burns.  Charlotte Bronte became a governess in 1839 like Jane Eyre.  Bronte received two proposals, one by a minister; she didn’t accept either because she didn’t love them.  Similar to Jane Eyre’s rejection of St. John Rivers’ proposal.  Bronte also uses a personal voice with the reader, “Gentle reader, may you never feel as I then felt.”  Do you like the autobiographical style?  Do you think that Jane Eyre should be read from an author (life of) point of view, or on its own?

Allusion: 

Who or what is the story alluding to?  A literary or religious work?  A historical or contemporary place or person?  Can you compare the story or character to what it is being alluded to?
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall;
All the King's horses and all the King's men,
Couldn't put Humpty together again.

  • How does the title’s (All the King’s Men) allusion to the nursery rhyme contribute to your understanding of the story?  Who in the story is Humpty Dumpty?

Publication Date: 

When was the book published?  In what ways do the characters reflect the social constraints of that time period?  Do you think that the characters would be different if the novel was written today, how so?

  • Charlotte Bronte in her novel Shirley describes the constraints and stereotypes of women:

  • Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel;   they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags.  It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.
            Do you think that gender typical stereotypes still exist today?  Are they similar to Charlotte Bronte’s time or have they changed?
 

Quotes: 

What quotes or passages seem particularly significant?  Find a thought-provoking quotation or philosophy and discuss it.  

  • The Life of Pi: Pi explains that, “The reason death sticks so closely to life isn't biological necessity-it's envy. Life is so beautiful that death has fallen in love with it, a jealous, possessive love that grabs at what it can” (p. 21).  Do you agree? 

Reviews and Literary Criticism: 

Go to Author Resources and take quotes or comments from articles on the novel and respond to them. 

  • Sandra M. Gilbert calls Jane Eyre the “Victorian Cinderella.”  She also makes comparisons to other fairytales such as “The Ugly Duckling,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and St. John Rivers to the wolf in “Little Red Riding Hood.”  Jane Eyre describes Rivers with, “What a face he had. . . . What a great nose!  And what a mouth!  And what large prominent teeth!”  What fairytale do you think Jane Eyre is most like and why?  Are there other fairytales that Jane Eyre could be compared to?


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