Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
- With what preconceptions of boys did you open Raising Cain? To what
extent were your assumptions shaped by firsthand experience, media depictions,
cultural stereotypes, or what the authors call archetypes? Which of your views
were most challenged, if not changed, by the book? Why?
- Kindlon and Thompson state that all boys are born with emotional
potential. What obstacles prevent them from giving expression to the range and
complexity of their emotional lives? How does our culture construct such
barriers? Do the trials that boys face today differ considerably from those
confronted by boys a generation or two ago?
- The authors express real reservations about reducing the development of
boys to a "nature versus nurture" conflict. Wherein lies their
disregard for this approach?
- Class and race do not emerge as primary issues in the authors' examination
of the challenges facing boys. What weight would you give to these issues vis-à-vis
a boy's development? Which challenges cut across lines of race and class, and
which are exacerbated by them?
- Some critics have seen Raising Cain as part of the so-called boys
movement that arose in response to the girls movement engendered by the
popularity of Mary Pipher's Reviving Ophelia. Do you credit such a view?
What cultural shifts help to create such a situation? What are the pros and cons
of such movements?
- In "A Paper Trail of Trouble to Come," Dan Kindlon concludes
that helping male students to maintain a healthy sense of self-esteem is of
primary importance. Why does he invest so much in self-esteem? What threats to
self-esteem do boys often encounter, and how do they usually deal with them?
What can parents and educators do to assist them in these trials?
- Michael Thompson writes that "ease with verbal expression improves
impulse control." What relation exists between a facility with language and
"emotional literacy"? What activities inhibit or develop a boy's
ability to express himself? What forms of expression other than language do boys
often employ in the name of expression? Discuss the shortcomings and benefits of
- Which of the difficult issues facing boys today mirror those of the adult
culture? What connection do you perceive between the two worlds? For example,
does the pharmaceutical-as-panacea view held by many adults color the way we
approach boys and their problems?
- What lies behind the authors' unequivocal disapproval of harsh discipline?
How does corporal punishment compare to its verbal counterpart? Do the
repercussions of each differ? How? Does gender often determine the sort of
discipline a child receives? Should it? What characterizes constructive
- Explicate the "culture of cruelty" that Kindlon and Thompson
acknowledge as present and virulent. What contributes to and perpetuates such a
culture? Why are boys implicated and entangled in this culture more often than
girls? Is the "culture of cruelty" a distinctly American phenomenon?
- How does the role of "emotional literacy" differ in a
father-son relationship and a mother-son relationship? What distinctions seem
fixed, or open to redefinition? Is there value in preserving that which
distinguishes one relationship from the other?
- Why does isolation, particularly that of a desperate and threatening
sort, appear to ensnare more boys than girls? What leaves boys lost in the
labyrinth of the self, and what helps them to move through that maze toward
others? What can a parent do to distinguish a meaningful retreat to solitude
from a harmful, helpless fall into depression?
- Kindlon and Thompson argue that emotional illiteracy and the desire to
flee from emotional isolation begin to explain the lure of alcohol and drugs for
adolescent males. Discuss their argument. What other problems arise when a young
man's emotional life is fractured, darkened, or silenced? Do you accept the
extent to which the authors invest meaning in the emotions of a boy's life?
- How does a boy's relationship to his mother set the stage for his
interactions with girls as an adolescent? What other factors contribute to the
expectations and nascent understanding with which he begins an intimate
- How do violence, aggression, and anger function as a means of expression
for some adolescent males? What leads them from a language of words to a
language of action? How does our society's reluctance to acknowledge the
complexity of causes behind violence perpetuate the problem? What significance
should one assign to the sort of violence found in the entertainments--movies,
video games, music, sport--popular among boys today?
- In their closing chapter, Kindlon and Thompson write, "What boys
need, first and foremost, is to be seen through a different lens than tradition
prescribes." Describe the conventional lens. In what ways does Raising
Cain redefine such a lens? What myths about boys were undone or unsettled by
your reading? Which were preserved?
- Acknowledging the shortcomings of the bulleted point, Kindlon and
Thompson conclude nonetheless with seven suggestions for raising boys.
Acknowledging the arbitrariness of lists of ten, add three more points and
explain your amendments.
>The interview and questions were prepared by Ron Fletcher. Ron Fletcher
teaches English at Boston College High School. He is at work on his first novel.
Reproduced with the permission of Random House, Inc.
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Ballantine Books.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.