Ideas for Group Discussions
The most autobiographical of Oates's books, Marya will bear comparison not just to her life, but also to the lives of successful women. It might generate discussion about the options open to women since the feminist movement of the 1970s and to issues raised by the feminist movement.
1. How is Marya a novel about mother-daughter relationships? Does it seem an accurate depiction of the legacy of alcohol abuse?
2. How does Oates deal with issues of child abandonment? How crucial is it for children to come to terms with their relationships with parents from whom they are estranged?
3. What stages of growth does Marya go through? How does the female coming-of-age story differ from similar male stories?
4. Why is Marya drawn to Father Shearing and his Catholicism? Why does she abandon the religious path?
5. Oates has never had children. Does she capture the world of childhood accurately? How well does she understand teenagers?
6. How does this novel help you to understand power struggles within female relationships?
7. To what extent is this a novel about the difference between those who stay tied to home and community and those who leave? What type of person stays? What type leaves?
8. How do the various images of violence — for example, the shorn hair, the conference on torture — relate? What is Oates saying about the nature of violence?
(The entire section is 278 words.)