Tuesday, February 04, 2014
10:25 AM | Posted by Wide Lawns | | Edit Post
I know I already told you how much I loved Elizabeth Gilbert's new book The Signature of All Things, right? You probably don't need to hear it again.
I used to be in a book club, but it disbanded as everyone got busy and couldn't stick with it and I miss it a lot. I also miss my literature classes in school where I could discuss books with like minded people, so I thought maybe I'd do it here. Every now and then a book will really stick with me and make me want to write about it and talk about it and this one got in my head and won't get out. I tried to look up some discussion questions and frankly, I didn't find very many, surprisingly and they weren't asking the same questions that I would. I decided to come up with my own list and if you've read the book, PLEASE talk about it with me in the comments section. A few years back I wrote a bunch of discussion questions for the book Room, and I had a lot of success with that and found lots of people to talk about the book with me, so I'm hoping the same thing will happen here. Since there are plot spoilers, for those of you who've yet to read it, don't read any further! I added a page break. If you want to read the questions, click on the title of the post to see the whole post.
The Signature of All Things Discussion Questions
1. Why do you think Gilbert made the decision to make Alma "ugly." Our first introduction to Alma refers to her being an ugly baby and looking like her father. Why would ugliness be essential to her character? How might her life have been different if she were prettier?
2. Did Alma's appearance truly make her unmarriable? Most people in those days really weren't particularly attractive, so was this a valid excuse for her spinsterhood or was it possible that men found her intelligence and outspoken-ness more unappealing than her looks?
3. Prudence and Alma are painted as total opposites but in what ways are they alike? Often Alma seems to envy Prudence, but do you think Prudence ever envied Alma? Why?
4. Throughout the book, Prudence often seems a bit shady. Did you feel that she was genuine and sincere or was she all a big facade? What were her real motives? Why was she so mysterious?
5. Prudence chooses to marry her teacher, which backfires in more ways than one, but honestly, why would she choose to marry at all? What purpose did marriage serve for Prudence other than taking her off the market?
6. What is the significance of the scene where Alma plays a comet? What is the symbolism of the comet? How does Alma remain like a comet throughout her life?
7. The novel contains a subplot about slavery and abolition. The Whitakers aren't slave owners, but still these themes creep in. Why? In what ways is Henry's wealth dependent on the culture of slavery? Do you think Prudence and Alma feel metaphorically enslaved in any way and perhaps that is why they might take up the abolitionist cause? Was this theme necessary to the rest of the novel or do you think Gilbert included it to be socially responsible?
8. Alma's sexuality figures very prominently in the novel. Why? Does her masturbation serve to make her a more human and sympathetic heroine? Could the inclusion of the masturbation scenes be considered a feminist statement? After all, most heroines from Alma's period are notably sexless and women of her time were supposed to be pure and without carnal desires.
9. Why do you think Gilbert chose to have Alma remain a virgin throughout her life? How would having sex with someone else have changed Alma's destiny?
10. Alma has one sexual encounter with Tomorrow Morning in which she gives pleasure and does not receive it in any way other than fulfilling a fantasy for herself. What is the significance of this experience? Is Tomorrow Morning a stand-in for Ambrose?
11. Why do you think Ambrose committed suicide? Do you think it was because he was gay or some other reason?
12. Do you think Ambrose used and manipulated Alma or was he genuine in his love for her? Did he just want her as a beard? Was most of their deep connection real or was it just Alma's fantasy because she was in love with him and lonely and desperately wanted a partner and passion in her life?
13. Did Alma do the right thing in sending Ambrose away or was this a cruel and selfish act? What would you have done in the same situation? Why did Ambrose agree, so complacently, to go?
14. Why did Retta Snow go mad? Why did her marriage to George, as a plot device, have to go so horribly wrong? Why do you think Gilbert chose to have their marriage end in disaster and once their spouses died, why didn't George and Prudence get together? Why might Gilbert not have allowed a happy ending for them?
15. Why do you think Alma renounced her inheritance? Why, after being raised in splendor, would Alma choose to live out her days very modestly? Did she feel guilty? Why?
16. In the end, did Alma finally get what she truly wanted in Holland? After all, she found companionship, a job and a family. Was this her happy ending or was this simply Alma settling for the best she could get?
17. Ultimately, would you say that Alma's life was tragic or was she actually a success? What do you think Alma really wanted? Did she get it?
18. What is Alma's most appealing character trait? What is her biggest flaw? What was the most surprising aspect of her character?
19. Who, besides Alma, was the most compelling character in the book? Why?
20. Throughout the book, much is said about Alma being like her father, but how is she also like her mother? How is Prudence like her adopted parents as well?
21. Bonus Question - why on earth did Alma's mangy dog like Alma's uncle so much?
*** I will add more questions as I think of them. Consider these a starting point and feel free to add your own in the comments section***
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