Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

How does Jane Smiley depict the layered complexities and contradictions of the parent-child relationship? What are the special challenges of motherhood? Fatherhood? How do her child characters learn to negotiate the minefields that their parents lay, however unwittingly?

How does love function among Smiley’s couples? What role does sex play in love? What do her varied explorations of fidelity and infidelity within couples suggest about the nature of love?

How does sex play havoc with the lives of otherwise rational people in Smiley’s works? Is there any statute of limitations on sexual desire and its consequences?

What role do environmental themes play in Smiley’s depiction of contemporary American life? What does the health of the physical world say about the lives of the individuals and institutions inhabiting it (for example in A Thousand Acres or Moo)?

The 1980’s has become a particular focal point in Smiley’s fiction for its “greed is good” ethos. How does her concern with the raw appetite of consumer capitalism shape the stories that she tells in works such as A Thousand Acres, Moo, and Good Faith?

Smiley’s subjects have ranged widely over a variety of specific subcultures—university, the real estate industry, the race track. How does she bring each of these worlds to life?

Ideological intractability of any political stripe comes under scrutiny in Smiley’s fiction. How does she make it the butt of comic deflation in Moo? In what ways do its tragic consequences become clear in The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton?

In what ways does Moo’s most celebrated character, the huge white boar Earl Butz, symbolize Smiley’s greatest concerns for American life at the beginning of the twenty-first century?

Smiley has justified her increasing fascination with the world of horses and horse racing in terms of her established novelistic predilections for the mysteries of personality. How does she render her animal subjects along such lines, and to what effect? What is it in the dynamic between human and horse that especially fixes her attention?