Reading guide for Independence Day by Richard Ford

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Independence Day

by Richard Ford

Independence Day
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jun 1995, 464 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 1996, 464 pages

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

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.


Reader's Guide
  1. 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?
  2. 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 American character?
  3. 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?
  4. 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?
  5. 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?
  6. 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?
  7. 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?
  8. 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?
  9. 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?
  10. "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?
  11. 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?
  12. 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?
  13. 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?
  14. 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?
  15. "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?
  16. 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 ecumenical?
  17. Consider definitions of "independence." Is there irony in being "free to make new mistakes" [p. 60]? What does Independence Day really mean for Frank?
  18. 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?
  19. 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.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: A Certain Age
    A Certain Age
    by Beatriz Williams
    Lovers of high-society gossip, there's a new set of players in town. A good 20 out of 23 of our...
  • Book Jacket: The Romanovs
    The Romanovs
    by Simon Sebag Montefiore
    The Romanovs chronicles the reigns of the 20 individuals who were considered members of that dynasty...
  • Book Jacket: Barkskins
    Barkskins
    by Annie Proulx
    Barkskins, by Annie Proulx, is not a book to read quickly. After a month of slow reading, I ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Imperial Wife
    by Irina Reyn

    A smart, engaging novel that parallels two fascinating worlds and two singular women.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Miss Jane
    by Brad Watson

    "Starred Review. Sensitive, beautifully precise prose. Highly recommended." - PW

    Read Member Reviews

Members review books pre-publication. Read their opinions in First Impressions

Book Discussions
Book Jacket
The Fair Fight
by Anna Freeman

A page-turning novel set in the world of 18th century female pugilists.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Summer Stunner
Summer Giveaway

Win 5 books, each week in July!

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

W M T N, W C F All

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
X

BookBrowse Summer Giveaway

We're giving away
5 books every
week in July!