Monday, April 25, 2005

The Great Fire: Ten Questions for Discussion

  1. If The Great Fire is a historical novel—“historical” in setting as well as in its preoccupation with weight of political and personal history—how does the novel feel particularly contemporary? What themes present in the book exist today, in our world?
  2. The novel is, as well, a veiled critique on Imperialism, on the Western world’s presence in
    foreign lands. In what way does each character reflect a different reaction to the East? What sorts of roles do they (Aldred, Peter, Oliver, the Driscolls, Calder, Talbot) play in its changing politics?
  3. In what ways is love expressed in the novel? Do these characters put themselves at risk for such expression, and furthermore, what must they stand up against to love others?
  4. The idea of destiny–fate–comes up again and again in this world. The word “destiny” itself is mentioned more than four times throughout the novel. If both love and war are then meant to be, if these people’s damages lead them to new places, what do these characters’ individual lives say about humanity as a whole? Does the novel leave you with hope or worry?
  5. More specifically, what is the fate of women in The Great Fire? Think of the discussion on Western weddings in Hong Kong, on page 159. Of Aldred and Peter’s impressions and experiences with women. Of Helen’s plight.
  6. Discuss the paragraph on page 111, beginning with “These were their days…”
  7. What role do the mailed letters play in the book? Are they “the sad silly evidence of things,” as Aldred says to Helen, or are they more? How does Hazzard use the epistolary form to fuel the narrative?
  8. Why, towards the novel’s close, does Aldred remember the stacking of his home’s firewood (page 223) with such immaculate detail?
  9. Infirmity is everywhere throughout The Great Fire—from Benedict Driscoll’s degeneration to Aldred’s wounds to Peter’s fate to Dick Laister’s father’s amputation. What deeper, quieter infirmities exist in the book? What are your impressions about the characters’ reaction to their wounds?
  10. What do you believe Benedict said when he yelled at the Japanese servant who would subsequently kill himself?

1 Comments:

At 9:38 AM, Blogger Aydelvise said...

Why is it nobody ever wants to be the first to go? Okay, I'll cave again. I'll be the first to ignore the ten questions posed by picador. (Aside: what are those things that matadors use to stick in the bulls? Are they called picadores?) My question is: Who was your favorite character in this book? I guess mine was Talbot.

 

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