Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
In the memoir, JR has a difficult childhood and family circumstances in
many respects, but there are also many positive elements to his childhood,
including a loving mother and grandmother. Compare Moehringer's portrait of
childhood to other memoirs you've read.
There are various portrayals of "good" and "bad" men in the memoir. What
are the different definitions of goodness in men?
Alcohol permeates the memoir. In what ways is it both a positive and a
negative factor in the lives of the various characters?
JR's mother is deeply conflicted about her living circumstances. Do you
think her experiences are representative of the struggles of many single
mothers? Do you think she is a strong character? Did you admire her, or
empathize with her?
JR's grandmother is tremendously long suffering, verbally abused by both
her husband and her son, and forced to put up with her husband's stinginess
and philandering. Did you find her a sympathetic character? Did her dilemma
feel familiar to you?
JR's grandfather is terrible to his wife and children, and mostly terrible
to his grandchildren. Yet he has occasional moments of greatness, such as at
JR's school breakfast. What do you think motivated JR's grandfather? Did you
find him likable?
JR and his mother spend a good bit of time during his childhood looking at
other houses, and the ways that other people live. JR even peeks in livingroom
windows. Consider the ways that such comparisons might be a positive or a
JR grows up without a present father. How do you think his search for a
masculine identity compares to that of men who grew up with fathers--good or
bad--who were more present in their lives?
The men along the bar are depicted warts and all--did you consider them
positive role models? Which of the men was most appealing to you, and why?
At various points in his young adulthood, JR notices that the men in the
bar have conflicting attitudes toward success in other men. What does this
stem from? Was it familiar to you?
Sports and athletes are tremendously important in the memoir, particularly
among the men--athletes are admired and even deified, and games and matches
are focal points of drama in the memoir and the experience of them can even
become personal milestones. Consider the importance of sports in men's lives
and relationships with each other.
Sidney is compared to Daisy in The Great Gatsby. In what other ways
do characters and circumstances in The Tender Bar resemble that novel,
particularly with respect to class and aspiration?
In what ways was JR's enormous ambition a positive element in his life,
and in what ways was it the source of pain? Is this inevitable?
At the end, JR suggests that Sidney wasn't wrong to have wondered about a
young man who spent so much time in a bar. Did you find her sympathetic?
How did you feel about the epilogue, and the way that the events of the
epilogue tied together the themes of the memoir? Did you feel resolution? Did
you think JR had changed? In what ways?
Did you see yourself and any of your own experiences as a parent, child,
man or woman in the memoir?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Hyperion.
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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