Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Peter Matthiessen often writes unflatteringly about the U.S. government. In what ways does he think that the United States failed in its obligations to the native people of the Americas?

Matthiessen is often characterized as an environmental writer. What purpose does such a writer have in crafting books for his readers? What “enemies” does Matthiessen identify in this type of writing. Do you believe that it is possible for writers such as Matthiessen to make a difference in people’s attitudes about environmental issues?

Are there instances in which it is right for people to take the law into their own hands, as the men of the Everglades did with Mr. Watson?

Is it possible, given the nature of the multiple versions of the story of Edgar J. Watson recounted in Killing Mister Watson, to ever know the “truth” about a particular event?

For what reasons did Matthiessen choose to write about his search for the snow leopard? In what ways does The Snow Leopard work on a variety of different thematic levels? If these levels interconnect, in what ways do they do so? For what purpose?

In what ways does the novel Far Tortuga function as a parable? In what ways can this be said of much of Matthiessen’s writing?