Reading guide for El Paso by Winston Groom

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El Paso

by Winston Groom

El Paso by Winston Groom X
El Paso by Winston Groom
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2016, 496 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2017, 496 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

  1. When we meet Arthur Shaughnessy, he receives a telegram from his father stating, "See if you can handle it"; when we first meet Pancho Villa, he is musing on the night he witnessed Halley's Comet - a sighting he interpreted as a bad omen. How did these first impressions set the tone for your reading? What did you anticipate?
  2. Consider the significance of place: the juxtaposition between cities and countries, the vast landscapes, the wildlife, the extreme weather. How does the setting speak to the greater themes of the novel?
  3. The Shaughnessy men make a game out of racing to Mexico, the Colonel by train and Arthur by plane. Later in the novel, they find themselves in a very different race to save the children. What does this irony say about the characters?
  4. Pancho Villa says, "You see, Mexico is a strange place. The things we do don't always make sense to you Americanos, but that's not the important thing. The important thing is that they make sense to us" (448). What other moments in the novel might this quote be applicable to?
  5. Racism plays a significant role throughout El Paso, with characters experiencing it to varying degrees. Colonel Shaughnessy, for example, is both a victim and an offender: in Boston, he is looked down upon for being Irish; and when he goes down to Mexico, he uses cruel words to describe the people there. How does racism inform the way different characters move through the world? Can perceptions be altered?
  6. Everyone wants to get their hands on Pancho Villa. Who has the highest stakes for finding him? Who did you find yourself rooting for? Against?
  7. It isn't shocking that the misanthropic satirist Ambrose Bierce, and the young journalist-socialist John Reed butt heads upon first meeting. Compare their different philosophies and goals. What does their relationship say of the time? What does it say of change?
  8. How did your perception of Pancho Villa evolve throughout the book? Do you sympathize with him at any point? Do you believe his violent actions are justified?
  9. How did knowing - or discovering in the end - that many characters were real people affect the way you read the story? Did the epilogue surprise you?
  10. Why do you think the Colonel sacrifices himself in the end? Could this have been avoided, or was it crucial?


Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Liveright / WW Norton. 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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