Robert Stone Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

According to the philosophy of the absurd as defined by Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre, among others, the absurd hero proves his heroism by asserting or creating significance even while recognizing the absolute indifference and meaninglessness of the universe. How does this definition of heroism apply to one or more of Robert Stone’s protagonists?

Stone’s recurrent imagery and even his short vignettes of strangers encountering each other in dangerous circumstances convey the underlying tensions and threats inherent in a Darwinian worldview. Illustrate this notion with images or scenes from one of Stone’s stories or novels.

Despite his foreign settings, Stone’s points of reference and central characters are always Americans. How does this fact help readers clarify his intentions and his message?

What virtues does Stone find in his drug culture characters? How does he use these virtues to intensify his social criticism?

Although Stone is not a comic writer, he regularly employs black humor, and his characters are sometimes caught up in somewhat comic situations. Find two examples to illustrate this point.

Provide two examples of Stone’s use of Shakespearean references in his works. What do these examples suggest about his reasons for doing so?

Stone refers to philosophies and concepts that he expects his readers to know or learn about. Pick one of them—for example, Sufist or Kabbalist philsophies in Damascus Gate--and find out more about it. How does this background information help you better understand what is going on?

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Robert Stone is best known as an award-winning novelist, but he also wrote the screenplay adaptations of his first two novels, A Hall of Mirrors (1967) and Dog Soldiers (1974), entitled WUSA (1970) and Who’ll Stop the Rain (1978), respectively. He has also written the novel Damascus Gate (1998) and contributed dozens of literary and social essays, travel pieces, and political commentaries to leading journals, and he edited (with Katrina Kenison) The Best American Short Stories 1992.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Robert Stone was awarded the William Faulkner Foundation First Novel Award in 1967 and won a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in 1971. Dog Soldiers won the National Book Award in 1975; A Flag for Sunrise (1981) was a finalist for that award and for the Pulitzer Prize in Letters in 1982. He has been the recipient of numerous later awards, including a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship in 1982 and the Mildred and Harold Strauss Living Award in 1987.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Reflecting his particular interest in film, Robert Stone has written two screenplays: WUSA (1970), which is based on his novel A Hall of Mirrors, and, with Judith Roscoe, Who’ll Stop the Rain (1978), a screen adaptation of Dog Soldiers. Stone has contributed short stories, articles, and reviews to such periodicals as The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, and the Manchester Guardian. Notable among these pieces is “The Reason for Stories: Toward a Moral Fiction” (Harper’s, June, 1988). A collection of Stone’s short fiction, Bear and His Daughter, appeared in 1997.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Robert Stone received a Wallace Stegner Fellowship to Stanford University in 1962 and a Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship in 1967 for a promising first novel. In 1968 he won the William Faulkner Foundation Award for A Hall of Mirrors, a “notable first novel”; reviewers praised his narrative skill, facility for language and dialogue, and strength of characterization. Dog Soldiers, in turn, won the National Book Award for 1975 and established Stone’s importance as a significant American novelist. In 1979 the Writers Guild of America nominated Who’ll Stop the Rain for best script adapted from another medium. In 1982 A Flag for Sunrise received the John Dos Passos Prize for literature and the American Academy and Institute Award in literature; was nominated for the American Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the PEN/Faulkner Award; and was runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. In 1983 Stone received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a grant from the National Institute of Arts and Letters; in 1986 Children of Light brought him a five-year, $250,000 Strauss Living Award. Stone is an established artist of high caliber, a political and social critic whose skill has merited comparisons with Graham Greene, Joseph Conrad, John Dos Passos, and Nathanael West.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bonetti, Kay, et al., eds. Conversations with American Novelists. Columbia: Missouri, 1997. Stone talks about his early stories in this far-ranging 1982 interview.

Edwards, Thomas R. Review of Bear and His Daughter: Stories, by Robert Stone. The New York Review of Books, October 9, 1997, 36-38. A favorable review arguing that Stone’s stories make more clear his metaphysical bent. Edwards calls the collection “remarkable” for depicting the characters’ cries of pain.

Epstein, Jason. “Robert Stone: American Nightmares.” In Plausible Prejudices: Essays on American Writing. New York: W. W. Norton, 1985. Epstein delineates the violence and destruction in Stone’s works and attacks Stone’s pessimism.

Finn, James. “The Moral Vision of Robert Stone: Transcendent in the Muck of History.” Commonweal 119 (November 5, 1993): 9-14. Although focused on the novels, this article in a Commonweal series on contemporary Catholic writers of fiction identifies the peculiarly moral strain of Stone’s writing.

Gardner, James. “Apocalypse Now.” National Review, June 1, 1998, 53-54. Gardner reviews Damascus Gate favorably, saying that it is informed by a “luminous spiritualism.” He comments, however, that the character of Christopher Lucas...

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