Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
- How would you describe the voice of the narrator? Does Azzopardi seem to integrate the three or more faces of Winnie with the actual style of writing?
- How does wartime serve as a symbolic background for much of the novel? Where do the connections become explicit? Dislocation and deprivation pervade the book. How else is war explored as a metaphor? What is the "war" that affects the narrator the most in her early childhood? How is Mr. Stadnik an emblem for the war?
Thieving is a recurrent act in Remember Me. The narrator steals, and she is stolen from. What are these acts, and what are the consequences? How do they gain in importance as the book unfolds?
- Would you consider isolation a central theme of the novel? What things contribute to the characters being isolated? (Consider being an "incomer" as well as those who are old or poor or both.) Are the results of isolation all negative? Can being apart sometimes lead to an understanding of others? Who in the book shows empathy? When people are sympathetic to the narrator, are their motives always mixed? Give examples.
- Winnie goes through cycles of adventures. Can it be said that each new character she meets tests her knowledge? Of truth? Love? As we move forward and backward in time, we also move in and out of objective reality. Is this gravitating to be taken only as the distortion of a disturbed person? Or could it be a reflection of many people's subjective lives?
- Does the narrator's obsession with the past render her powerless? Is it another kind of prison for her? Are there other ways to look at her absorbing interests? Is it perhaps the only way she can impose some order on her confusion? What in particular lures her back to the past? Is she also caught in the present at times?
- The narrator's observations are shot through with poetry: odd, startling, and true images and analogies. As constrained as she is in some ways, she is also free of preconceptions, of truths that would put blinders on her. When do you see this liberation of language in the book?
- The narrator has at times her own sense of honor. How, and when? She often has a gimlet eye for pretense and bad behavior. When? And when does she capitulate, almost joyfully, to the wickedness others accuse her of? What are the consequences?
- What do you think is suggested by the title? At the end of Chapter 28, we get one clue: "Because I have no visitors, I tend the roses. No one remembers me" (p. 279). Winnie's perambulations, name changes, disguises, and the passage of time make it hard for the narrator to be remembered. Yet, at times she is definitely remembered, sometimes to her peril. Give examples.
- How is deception used in plot and character development? Recall the theater tricks of the Foys. How much does Winnie believe in what she does with her "gift"? Later she says, " I can lie to myself as easily as lying to others; as easily as they can lie to me. Denial trails me like a dog" (p. 287). Can you cite examples? We remember that her price of freedom from Bethel Street after twenty-four years was to claim rehabilitationthat she would never steal even a daisyas opposed to Noreen who refused to capitulate to the Sisters. Hewitt says at one point, "Not everything is as it seems in this world, Winifred" (p. 263). Discuss times in the book when there are discrepancies between appearance and reality.
- "What's in a name?" the narrator asks (p. 135). Patricia, Lillian, Winifred, Beauty, Princesstrace the sequences and confusions of these names and how they affect the narrator. Look also at times she is dehumanized, treated as less than human. In the dress shop, "Debs was spraying something in the air from a can, spraying behind me as I left, as if there was a trail to cover, as if I were a fly, a wasp." (pg. 150). What are other examples of her being dehumanized?
- Through more than a year, the narrator and Joseph dream of running away to the sea. What other characters dream of escape? Do any achieve it?
- Is the narrator's conjured reality often more real than what is palpably around her? Perhaps her attention to detail is one way to keep chaos at bay. "I lie in bed at night, and between the hooting bird and the keening wind, I think about the countryside being quiet. It's not true. Noise fills my sleep; Billy's chain becomes the knocking bones of skeletons as they rise from the fen; the rain is a river of silver coins; the barking is the scarecrow standing in the far field, knocking his pipe out against the fence. His head is bent to one side and his hair glows luminous against the sky. He wears my grandfather's face" (p. 121). In what other ways does she introduce us to new ways of seeing?
- In some ways this is a timeless tale, or time is refracted through the narrator's varying prisms. Occasionally, though, the story is tied down momentarily to events in the outside world. What are some of these markers?
- Azzopardi uses recurrent images as a device of the novel. Think of ghosts and bones. Mirrors are tied up with identity issues and confusion of names. Think about how the images spin and shift. For instance, the mirror image of the girl in the lake stared back, a kind of "future ghost" (p. 166). Think of prison images, literal and figurative. Birds are important throughoutJoseph, the swooping bird that causes Winnie to faint as she sustains a vision of Joseph. How are these and other images developed in accretions of meaning?
- The loss endured by the narrator, starting with her loss of certain normal faculties, is painful and extraordinary. Cite the losses she suffers, all those people in her life. Remember, even Gloria, Mr. Stadnik's gift. How are these losses tied to her crises of identity?
- What do we learn about mental illness and how it was dealt with in this time? At the end of her life, even the narrator knows that other, more humane measures might have been taken in her behalf, such as therapy or medication. Do we wonder how much of the world still suffers the same indignities she did?
- How do you interpret the end? Do you see it as almost a scene from Revelation? Does it, as an "end," represent the end of hope? Or the beginning? "They say hope is the worst of all evils. . . Never give up hope, Princess," once said Mr. Stadnik (p. 243). The narrator herself once said, "Hope is an affliction" (p. 256). Does she have a startling new voice at the conclusion?
SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER READING
The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy
Have the Men Had Enough? by Margaret Forster
Molloy by Samuel Beckett
Felicia's Journey by William Trevor
Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler
Loving Che by Ana Menéndez
Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Grove Press.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.