The Name of the Rose

by Umberto Eco

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Eco's fiction provides an unusual wealth of material for discussion. He is always aware of the reader, and makes it his business to provide plenty of ambiguities and puzzles so as to provoke thought and debate. Despite the formidable difficulties it presents, The Name of The Rose has remained popular since its publication. Its appeal seems likely to endure, at least in part because it gives readers so much to talk about. Whether one considers it as a detective novel, historical fiction, psychological narrative, or philosophy, it offers a well-nigh inexhaustible source of topics.

1. Do William's many failures diminish his stature? Is he truly a Great Detective, or just a parody of one?

2. Adso is represented as an old man recalling events of many years ago. Does he seem to be a reliable narrator? Does Eco ever give us cause to doubt Adso's memory or frankness?

3. Most of the sex in the novel is homosexual. Does Eco feature the illicit relations of the monks with each other simply to reflect a historical reality, or does he have some other reason?

4. How does Eco make the medieval fears and joys of the characters comprehensible to modern readers?

5. Jorge of Burgos proves a formidable antagonist, despite his blindness. How does his blindness actually make him more dangerous?

6. William is forced to discard his apocalyptic theory of the murders. Are they really just random events? Is there a deeper sense in which the apocalyptic pattern is valid after all?

7. Eco includes many passages in Latin, which he cannot reasonably expect most readers to understand. Assuming that he has a more serious purpose than showing off, why does he run this risk of alienating his readers?

8. What is the point of the repeated allusions to William's eyeglasses?

9. Why does Eco complicate matters with his odd tale of the fortunes of Adso's manuscript?

10. Several of the monks consider the unique manuscript of Aristotle to be worth killing or dying for. Does Eco expect us to grant it such a high value? Would it have been better if Jorge had destroyed it as soon as he became aware of its nature?

11. The book ends grimly, with death all around, the diplomatic mission failed, the library destroyed, and Adso finishing his narrative as a tired old man. Have the forces of light — humor, tolerance, intellectual freedom — won anything?

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