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Wild Lifeby Molly Gloss
Reading Group Guide
Questions for Discussion
We hope the following questions will stimulate discussion for reading groups and provide a deeper understanding of Wild Life for every reader.
1. In what ways ? in her behavior as a mother and her relationships with the townspeople, for example ? does Charlotte Bridger Drummond defy convention? How are the conventions that she defies similar to or different from those faced by independent women today?
2. The very first of Charlotte?s diary entries that we read ? dated three months after her deepwoods adventure, and out of chronological sequence ? is, "To write, I have decided, is to be insane." How does this judgment affect our response to all that follows? In what ways, and in what contexts, do issues of sanity and insanity arise?
3. "I can amuse and digress with the best of them," Charlotte says of herself, "and have an imagination that gives way to no man." What sets her imagination apart from the imaginations of others, and how do its workings become known? If Charlotte prizes the imagination to the extent she claims, why does she insist upon finding rational explanations for everything? How might the combination of Charlotte?s "energetic imagination" and "a certain giddiness" and "relish for adventure" predispose her to her experiences in the forest?
4. With what details does Gloss provide a sense of the landscape, economy, and life of southwest Washington at the turn of the twentieth century?
5. How do the various quotations that Gloss intersperses throughout Charlotte?s account illuminate the major themes of the novel or enhance our understanding of the motivations and behavior of Charlotte and other characters?
6. One of the Samuel Butler quotations reads: "When anything in [my books] is rather strange and outré, it is probably drawn straight from nature as close as I could draw it; when it is plausible, there is probably no particular and especial foundation for it." How might this comment and Charlotte?s immediately following observation ? "It is a mild paradox, I suppose, that plots taken from real life often are the harder to believe" ? apply to Charlotte?s writings? How might they apply to Wild Life?
7. To what degree have Charlotte?s "necessary conditions for female emancipation" been realized? "I envision a day very soon," she wrote in 1889, "when women as a class shall be guaranteed happiness. We lack only the technology." How is this view reconciled with what Charlotte later writes of Melba: "She had little confidence and less interest in the idea of Progress, not having noticed much improvement in people?s happiness with the improvement of machinery"? How have technology and "the improvement of machinery" affected women?s lives over the past 110 years?
8. In a 1906 diary entry, Charlotte notes that, despite being "accustomed to thoroughly governing my own affairs and the affairs of my children" and "in those respects well content with my condition," she has never conquered loneliness. What kind of loneliness does she refer to, and what are its occasions? What is the "agony of solitariness" that Charlotte suffered after being "rescued," and how might it be related to this later loneliness?
9. How might we explain the "feeling of puniness and anxiety, which must be the human response to such supernatural forests" as the one Charlotte enters in search of Harriet? In what way are these "primeval forests" supernatural? How do Gloss?s descriptions of the great forests ? and Charlotte?s observation, "Of course, that is the meaning of forests, that they are wild" ? support present-day arguments for the preservation of wild places?
10. After several days lost in the deep woods, Charlotte begins to contemplate the possibility of her death and the question of life after death. To what extent are her thoughts in this regard commonplace, and to what extent exceptional? What does Charlotte learn about grief and dying and human attitudes toward grieving and the death of oneself and others?
11. In an August 1902 diary entry, Charlotte writes that "the extraordinary has an allure of its own that can transcend intellectual considerations." How might this observation apply to her own story? In what way does Charlotte?s story transcend intellectual considerations? What kind of considerations take precedence over the intellectual?
12. What does Charlotte learn from her observations of the forest beasts about love, family bonds, other states of being, and civilization itself? How do her experiences with and observations of the beasts alter her view of herself and the personal qualities she once held as primarily valuable?
13. As Charlotte joins her own "warble" of mourning to that of the Mountain Giants, she observes of this single instance of alteration, "By such small increments the old lines that set me apart, that defined me, are erased." By what increments and through what stages does Charlotte adapt her behavior and outlook to those of the Mountain Giants? What does she learn or acquire, and what does she lose or forget at each stage? Which is the more important, what she acquires or what she leaves behind?
14. Returning with Horace Stuband to the Island, Charlotte considers that "the conquest of the natural world has been the ruling passion of this modern society." What evidence of this "ruling passion" appears in the novel? How close has the country come to being "emptied of the last of its mysteries"? Why should we be concerned that "the connection between ourselves and the wild world [might be] irrevocably broken"?
15. What is the message conveyed by the final excerpt from "Tatoosh" about the Bearded Man? How do you interpret the statement that "the Bearded Man had cut the cord between himself and the world and now stood separate in his victory, like an embryo which has triumphed over its womb"? What are the implications of the novel?s final sentences ? "In the Moon When Tight Buds Unfurl, Wolverine found a lost child belonging to the Bearded Man and brought this child to us. We have been keeping it safe"?
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