Topics for Discussion

1. What attracts passive characters such Jack Burden and Anne Stanton to Willie Stark?

2. Sometimes Stark seems to be less of an individual than an embodiment of the crowds he performs for. Cite examples of this. When does he seem most like an individual?

3. Willie Stark wants to change the world to help the common man. He believes that building roads, bridges and hospitals will show the privileged elite that the common man will someday rule. Why does Stark have such an idea? Is it a noble idea? Do the means he uses to fulfill his purposes justify the ends?

4. Compare Willie Stark to Adam Stanton. How does Willie’s world of facts compare to Adam’s world of ideas? Is either world better? Does any character in the novel manage to reconcile both worlds?

5. Tom Stark is not a particularly well-drawn character, but his actions and his accident on the football field reveal a good deal about Willie. Explain how this occurs.

6. To what extent is Jack responsible for the deaths of Judge Irwin, Willie Stark, and Adam Stanton? To what extent are these men responsible for their own deaths? Are others responsible for the deaths as well?

7. What common characteristics does Jack share with his natural father, Judge Irwin? With his supposed father, Ellis Burden?

8. Why does Anne Stanton reject Jack when he courts her after returning home from college? When Anne finally marries Jack, he has obviously changed. Has she changed as well?

9. What does Jack learn about the American dream during his journey to California?

10. Discuss Jack’s progress from the Great Sleep, to his fear that life is only a Great Twitch, to his acceptance of moral responsibility. How does this progression involve the theme of redemption?

11. How do the lessons Jack learns compare with those learned by Cass Mastern?

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