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As the resident poet at EcoHealth Alliance, my verse finds inspiration these days in the spectre of global pandemics. At LMU Munich's Amerika-Institut, where I tutor composition and poetics, I'm anatomizing the sonnets of E. A. Robinson for my dissertation. I also teach at Münchner Volkshochschule and Amerikahaus.

20150701

Amerikahaus Literary Circle: 1 July 2015

Discussion Questions for To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

1.  Did you enjoy the story?  If so, what did you especially like?

2.  The character of Jean Louise Finch—Scout—narrates the novel in a voice that possesses qualities of both adult reflection and child-like immediacy.  Did you find instances of this?  If so, how did this particular admixture of effect work to affect you as a reader?

3.  Set in rural Alabama in 1935, the Maycomb of Harper Lee’s creation is rife with minute detail evoking the social life of a small town—that said, there is also a timeless quality to the place that lends itself to easy comparisons by a contemporary readership.  Though far removed from us in the Munich of 2015, it was nevertheless somewhat easy to slip into this fictive and historical world:  How did the novelist achieve this effect?  

4.  For much of the novel, the concepts of violence and terror reside only in the imaginations of Jem, Scout, and Dill as they while away their easy summer days.  Prior to the ending—where there is, of course, a spate of events that literally shake up the children to the ways of the adult world—did you detect a sense of forboding in their otherwise idyllic world?

5.  One way that novelists differentiate character is through the presentation of speech patterns—lexical choices, syntatic tics, and dialectal variations, and so on.  Consider all the characters in this question:  How do their voices differ, and what effect did this have upon your experience of the story?

6.  A novel, as a piece of writing, is rhetorically constructed through the accretion of smaller parts—words, collocations, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs.  In looking at the writing itself, its features of language, what did you take note of as you read?  Contrast, for example, Lee’s prose style with those of other writers we have recently read—Vonnegut, Conrad, Hemingway, Boyle, and Gilbert.  

7.  The very title evokes a moral message:  What is it?  Is the novel merely a dressed-up morality play, or is it instead a living and realistic portrayal of American life?  Did you find its message of tolerance artfully brought forth, or was it obtrusively drawn and heavy-handed?  Consider its value in light of the present state of race relations in the United States.

8.  Was the ending satisfying?

9.  In less than two weeks, Harper Lee’s second novel, Go Set a Watchman, written in the 1950s before To Kill a Mockingbird, will be published and feature a return of many of the characters as adults.  How do you expect the lives of the characters to have evolved?

10.  Have you seen the film?  If so, did you like it?  How did it differ from the book?

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