Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About This Guide
The questions, discussion topics, suggested
reading list, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your
group's reading and discussion of Richard Ford's Pulitzer Prize-winning
Independence Day. We hope they will aid your understanding of a novel that
is at once casual and lyric, hilarious and poignant, irreverent and inspiring.
Like its ordinary (and extraordinary) hero, Independence Day is not
always what it seems though its themes ring as clear as the carillon that wakes
the opening day. A narrative celebration of the "hum of the human spirit,"
illuminated by tacit affirmation of the faith of mankind, this novel is as
"bright and chancy" a spectacle as the Fourth of July festivities it portrays.
About This Book
Frank Bascombe, who made his first appearance in Ford's 1986 novel The
Sportswriter, continues his narrative five years later. Frank-- now
forty-four, divorced, "residential specialist," former sportswriter, parent,
Democrat, and occasional Presbyterian with a fear of "disappearing"-- finds his
life at a "turning or at least a curving point" on the Fourth of July weekend,
1988. After showing clients their forty-sixth potential home and passing an
intimate, though problematic, evening with his lady friend at her beach house,
he travels from Haddam, New Jersey, to Deep River, Connecticut, home of his
remarried former wife. Here he collects his troubled teenage son, Paul, for a
weekend trip to several sports halls of fame. Their journey-- a passage through
choices, reflections, and regrets-- is transformed in one lightning-bolt moment
alongside a peaceful baseball field. Helped by a solicitous stranger, Frank and
his son are carried across their own spiritual deep river to a fresh start on
the other side. As Everyman, Frank Bascombe is a symbol of redemption and
possibility-- a source of hope for all.
You may have laughed out loud while reading Independence Day.
Possibly the novel's serious purpose came as a surprise. What is the temper
of Frank Bascombe's interior monologue as opposed to that of the novel's
themes? How is Ford's pervasive use of humor integral to his development of
plot and theme?
Haddam, New Jersey, is introduced as idyllic, but reality soon counters
the idyll. How does Independence Day's catalog of past and present
Americana juxtapose the ideal and the real? Does the novel express the
Frank Bascombe believes he is "more or less normal-under-the-microscope"
[p. 7]. But his ex-wife, Ann, says he may be "the most cynical man in the
world" [p. 184]. Sally, his girlfriend, finds him "too smooth" and
"noncommittal" [p. 272]. What kind of person is Frank? Does his profession
suit him? He says, "I'm no hero" [p. 438]. In what ways is he heroic?
Frank labels Ann a "bedrock literalist" [p. 103]. Sally, he says, lives
"a life played out in the foreground" [p. 153]. Does he perceive these women
fairly? Are they alike? Unlike? Do they understand him?
How would you answer Paul when he says, "Don't you really think
something's wrong with me" [p. 328]? How does his accidental "detachment"
[p. 374] describe his problem? Is Clarissa also affected by the divorce? How
does the novel mourn the loss of the nuclear family?
When Frank met Karl Bemish along the road, he decided to help him. What
American characteristics does this "old nostalgian" [p. 136] typify? What
does the rescue and rehabilitation of the hot dog stand signify?
The Markhams suffer from regret, indecision, inability to act,
isolation, and a "current predicament of homelessness" [p. 55]. Should they
be content at 212 Charity with a prison beyond the backyard fence? Should
they stay permanently in a motel? Will they find solace in Frank's "colored
rental" [p. 406]? Are they "out-of-the-ordinary white folks" [p. 423] in
their racial outlook? How representative of Americans are they?
Of what narrative and thematic significance is the murder at the Sea
Breeze Motel? Why are Frank and Tanks "unable to strike a spark" [p. 216]?
What is the cause, and function, of Frank's remorse at the end of Chapter 6?
Do you think the weekend journey has both literal and symbolic levels?
Which dictionary definition of "sanctuary" would you apply to the Deep
River Bird Sanctuary: shrine, refuge, or protection? How else does the novel
examine these forms of sanctuary?
"Do you believe in progress, Bascombe?" [p. 113] asks old man Schwindell.
How does Frank come to define "progress?" Do the weekend's events chronicle
Frank's spiritual growth as a kind of "progress"? What stages does he pass
through from Haddam to Cooperstown?
What does the Baseball Hall of Fame represent to America and to
Independence Day? How is Cooperstown a "replica" [p. 293]? What is Frank's
objection to simulation?
Irv appears out of the blue when Paul is struck. Who is Irv? How does he
minister to Frank? What problem does he express when he says, "I feel like
some bad feeling is sort of eating away at me on the edges" [p. 389]? How do
people like Irv fare in today's world? Does the photo in his "tiny wafer
wallet" [p. 391] sanctify family? Does Frank accept Irv's invitation to
return to family status? When Ann and Irv mouth "hope" together [p. 402], is
Frank's spiritual journey advanced?
How is Paul's accident a catalyst for change? Is change "conversion"?
How does Paul's eye injury alter Frank's vision? Consider "blindness" as
metaphor. What vision does the author seek to restore?
Frank's imaginary syllabus topic, "Reconciling Past and Present: From
Fragmentation to Unity and Independence" [p.259], might describe the trip's
(and the novel's) goal and result. Is reconciliation accomplished?
"I don't believe in God" [p. 432], Frank insists. Does this mesh with
the Christian tone of his thinking, his journey, and the novel? Karl
answers, "You seem one way and are another." In what way does Ford similarly
craft both character and novel?
Real estate is a central metaphor in Independence Day. Who are
the metaphorical tenants and landlord? Is any form of shelter not described?
Which characters seek shelter? Is it structure or solace? Does Frank really
believe "place means nothing" [p. 152]? Which of the novel's many "mansions"
does Ford recommend? What is suggested by Frank's comment: "What more can
you do for wayward strangers than to shelter them" [p. 424]? Frank's former
mansion is now an Ecumenical Center. In what sense is the novel also
Consider definitions of "independence." Is there irony in being "free to
make new mistakes" [p. 60]? What does Independence Day really mean for
At novel's end, Frank says to an unidentifed phone caller, "Let me hear
your thinking" [p. 451]. Does it matter who the caller is? What might
Frank's response indicate about his thinking?
In 1776, John Adams wrote of Independence Day, "It ought to be
solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells,
bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other..."
How does Ford's novel meet all of Adams's requirements? With its varied
allusions to light, what source of "illumination" does Independence Day
offer to modern America?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Vintage.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.
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