Clay: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Joyce had originally intended to title this story “Hallowe’en.” Why was the title changed to “Clay”?

2. To what degree is Maria able to develop a relationship at her job?

3. How does Maria’s early relationship with her nephews compare to her present one?

4. What is the irony of Maria’s description as a “peace-maker”?

5. Why is Joyce’s description of Maria so grotesque?

6. Why, ironically, is Maria able to converse with the man on the train?

7. What is the significance of Joe’s drinking problem?

8. How can we tell that Maria is alienated from Joe’s children?

9. What is the ironic parallel between Maria visiting on Halloween and her description?

10. What is the significance of Maria’s “mistake” in the song?

Answers
1. Clay is lifeless, like the meaningless relationships represented in this story.

2. She can develop no close relationships, since she works among Protestants (who do not share her religion) and lower class women (who do not share her lifestyle).

3. Although able to love them as children, Maria is too self-conscious to feel at ease with Joe now, and Alphy is far away.

4. The irony is that her two nephews no longer speak to one another, and it’s impossible for Maria to make peace between them.

5. The degree to which she has lost her sexuality and sense of herself is so exaggerated that Maria is a grotesque (highly exaggerated and unrealistic) figure.

6. He’s drunk, and therefore no meaningful conversation can take place.

7. Although Maria looks forward to a pleasant evening, she’s obviously deluded about how enjoyable the experience actually is, since Joe needs to get drunk to enjoy it.

8. They immediately take offense when she asks them where the plumcake is.

9. Her witch-like physical appearance makes her an unwelcome visitor on Halloween, even though she’s a deeply religious person.

10. It signifies her inability to conceptualize the idea