Jane Smiley's Moo: Handout 3 ~ Questions
Mary Helen Nesbitt
Matthew D. Pistilli
April 5, 2005
Questions to Ponder for Jane Smiley’s Moo
Mrs. Walker seemingly wields a great deal of power on campus. Discuss the root of this power, the extent to which others know she is the one practically running the campus, and the effect her character has on the story in general.
Comment on Chairman X (for example: his supposed marriage to Lady X, role as a father, affairs, lifestyle, role at the university, feelings about other faculty & administrators).
What do you make of the character Father (Old Man Hellmich)? Does the story need him? Comment on his gruffness, very religious ways, constant reading of the Bible, etc.
On page 227 (Ch. 41), Nils Harstad notes to Helen that “The Lord’s message can come through CNN as easily as in a glorious cloud.” Given the prominent role the media plays in all our lives, comment on this statement in the context of a college campus – its students, faculty, administrators, and supporters.
On page 341 (end of Ch. 58) there is talk of a riot near Lafayette Hall. The girls comment on the reason for the riot. “Race! Thought Mary. Alcohol! Thought Keri. Maybe it’s tuition hikes, said Diane.” Comment on these thoughts in light of past riots at Purdue and other universities.
Compare the riot in Moo (p. 346, middle of Ch. 59) with the riot in Changing Places.
The faculty at Moo University portray a wide range of teaching and interaction styles. Compare the styles and mannerisms of Lionel Gift to Helen Levy. What about the other professors?
Discuss the relationship between Ivar Harstad and Helen Levy.
On page 45 (Ch. 9), Smiley writes:
“The clientele of the Black Hole consisted largely of students who, if asked a question about what single nutrient they might choose to have with them on a desert island (or in a black hole), would answer unhesitatingly, “Bud.” All earnestly believed that beer was the perfect food, and this knowledge had been kept from them by a conspiracy of adults.”
· Comment on this passage in light of the drinking culture on college campuses, including Purdue.
· The second half of that passage reads:
“While Bob knew this wasn’t true, he frequented the Black Hole because it gave him someplace to go that was decidedly different from his apartment but not unlike Earl Butz’ confinement room with the lights off. He said, “I hate parties. I like anti-parties, like the Black Hole here.”
· Comment on Bob’s stance regarding parties. Do other students adhere to this culture? Are there places (bars, hangouts, etc.) at Purdue (or other universities) that fit the same culture?
Chapter 5 is entitled “Secular Humanism.” According to the Council for Secular Humanism (http://www.secularhumanism.org), secular humanism:
“… is a way of thinking and living that aims to bring out the best in people so that all people can have the best in life. Secular humanists reject supernatural and authoritarian beliefs. They affirm that we must take responsibility for our own lives and the communities and world in which we live. Secular humanism emphasizes reason and scientific inquiry, individual freedom and responsibility, human values and compassion, and the need for tolerance and cooperation.”
Comment on this definition, the chapter title, and the relation of secular humanism to the book.
Comment on the second paragraph (as a whole) in chapter 5 (p. 24-25).
Discuss campus life at Moo University as based on descriptions throughout the book, including page 20 (Ch. 4) and depictions of Dubuque House.
Discuss Lionel Gift’s grading scale, as noted in the last paragraph of Ch. 29 (p. 155).
Comment on Dr. Bo Jones’ experiment with Earl Butz and his comment about hog:
“Hog, is a mysterious creature, not much studied in the wild, owing to viciousness and elusiveness. Can’t get the papers, you know, to take yourself to Uzbekistan, even if you had the funding. Never been a hog that lived a natural lifespan. Never been an old hog. Hog too useful. Hog too useful to be known on his own terms, you know. What can I do with this hog, when can I eat it, what can I make of this hog, how does this hog profiteth me, always intervenes between man and hog. When I die, they’re going to say that Dr. Bo Jones found out something about hog” (p. 6).
Comment on the experiment with Earl Butz, the doomed building “Old Meats” and their relation to institutions of higher education.
Comment on the symbolism behind the destruction of Old Meats.
Discuss the role of Earl Butz in the novel. Do you see him as a metaphor? If so, how? Also, compare his role as a pig to the real person.
In Chapter 50 Earl gets a new caretaker. Discuss what you think Smiley is metaphorically suggesting?
In Chapter 6 Gary is given the creative writing assignment to eavesdrop to polish his dialogue skills. If you were to complete this assignment today in the Memorial Union what kind of things do you think you would overhear?
In Chapter 43 Professor Monahan is the topic of discussion for promotion. In pondering the decision Dr. Gift says in reference to Prof. Manahan's novel:
"Can we find out the advance on this novel? How it ranks nationally on the scale of advances?"
· Do you believe this is reflective of what a real promotion committee might sound like?
· As we know Dr. Jischke is one for "metrics" and was the President of Iowa State while this novel was written. Do you think this is a "shot" at Dr. Jischke?
· Shortly before this statement it is discussed whether excerpts of his novel appearing in Playboy should be considered in the decision for promotion. Do you think it should be?
What do you think about Old Meats being turned into a "Chicken Museum?" Discuss the statement, "some ideas are better ideas. In this case, chickens are fundable, so chickens are a better idea, you see?"
Governor Early slashed the state budget by $200 million (p. 117). – How did it negatively affect education? What does he mean by comparing education to an investment?
“Education is an investment. The trouble is, they don’t run it like an investment over there, with the students as customers, because that’s what they are, you know. Now they run it like welfare, but I’m telling you, if they won’t turn it around themselves, we’ve got to turn it around for them. This administration believes strongly in education” (Gov. Early, p. 188)
Comment on Loren Stroop’s paranoia and subsequent “brain attack.”
Why do you think Smiley chose to give certain people nicknames, like “Father Lionel” and “Mother Levy” and “Just Plain Brown” and “Cates the Chemist?” Does this happen at other institutions?
Discuss the role of feminine power in the novel. What are Dr. Helen Levy’s and Dr. Cecilia Sanchez’s views?
Why are the students referred to as “customers” throughout the novel? (p. 22)
Why was there such an emphasis on Marxism, Communism and Capitalism throughout the novel?
· “It was well known among the citizens of the state that the university had pots of money and that there were highly paid faculty members in every department who had once taught Marxism and now taught something called deconstructionism which was only Marxism gone underground in preparation for emergence at a time of national weakness” (p. 19).
· Capitalism vs. communism (p. 159).
· The communism discussion in Ch. 39, relating to Communism in Europe.
o Chairman X’s views.
o The Marxist tapestry on display in Chairman X’s home years ago.
o Tim Monahan’s social realistic views.
o Cecelia’s opinion.
o Loren Stroop’s take on the matter.
o Dr. Bo Jones’ and Dr. Cates’ views.
· The destructive effects of Capitalism (p. 301).