A brilliant novel of epic proportions, "Metropolis" tells the story of a young man's struggle to find love and create a life in late 19th-century New York.
1. The hero of Metropolis
remains nameless for the first part of the book;
later, he tries on different names, which he then rejects, each in turn. Why
are names important, and why do you think Gaffney chose to complicate
her main characters identity in this way?
2. Beatrice OGamhna does not initially appear to be the nicest heroine
when we first meet her; she is involved in pickpocketing and kidnapping.
How did you feel about her character, as you read? What is her appeal?
3. Although the main character is a man, the strongest characters in the
book are arguably the women: Mother Dolan, Beanie, Fiona. The issues of
womens suffrage, violence against women and women in traditionally
male professions such as medicine also come up in the story. What sort of
point is Gaffney making? How much do you think society has changed in
its attitudes toward women since the nineteenth century?
4. Harris is dogged by bad luck in the book, but he also has his share of very
good luck, and there are any number of serendipitous or coincidental
events that occur. What role does luck play in the story? Are characters held
responsible for their actions?
5. Harris did not commit the particular crime of arson that he is suspected
of, but he is not purely innocent either. Is his sense of guilt appropriate? Is
he responsible for the things that happen after he is conscripted into the
gang? Does old unresolved guilt carry over into his present?
6. Most of the characters have complicated moral situations: they are good
people, and yet they are criminals; or they are criminals, but there is some
explanation for how they fell into a life of crime. In certain cases, characters
appear to be good, but they are in fact deeply corrupt. In what sort of
moral universe do the characters of Metropolis live? Are any of the characters
strictly good or evil?
7. There are two main villains, Dandy Johnny Dolan and Luther “the
Undertaker” Undertoe. Why do you think Gaffney wanted two villains in
the story, and how do they differ?
8. The Whyo gang has a complicated secret language and uses a profitsharing
scheme where funds are collected according to ability and distributed
according to need. They treat women considerably better than do
other gangs of criminals; at the same time, the gang is also extremely violent
and corrupt. What did you think of the Whyos, in the end, and why? Is
it possible to imagine a “good” gang?
9. Several of the characters in the story—Harris, Beatrice, John-Henry, and
Luther—lost their mothers early in their lives, and Johnny grew up without
a father. How do these formative events affect them, and how does each
character handle the difficulty of growing up with this loss?
10. There is a large cast of secondary characters in Metropolis, as well as
many side stories and digressions from the main narrative, on topics such
as street paving, sewer building, underwater caisson excavation, womens
health and bacteriology. Why did Gaffney choose to include all these characters
and themes, and how do you think they contribute to the main story?
11. Do you think that the city of New York is more than just the setting for
the novel? Could the city itself be seen as a character in Metropolis?
12. Occasionally, the narrators voice intrudes on the story to comment on
the action. How does this change the experience of reading the story?
Would you say Metropolis feels like an old-fashioned novel, or are there aspects
of it that mark the book as a product of the twenty-first century?