Reading guide for The Wall by John Lanchester

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The Wall

by John Lanchester

The Wall by John Lanchester X
The Wall by John Lanchester
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2019, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2020, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

  1. What methods does Joseph Kavanagh come up with to deal with the monotony of life on the Wall?
  2. What does it mean to be a Defender? How does Kavanagh's perspective of his mandatory service as a Defender change over the course of Part 1? What do you think they are actually defending?
  3. How would you characterize the society before and after "the Change"?
  4. Kavanagh has a hard time relating and talking to his parents. It's not just an issue in his family, but throughout society. Why is there an intergenerational rift? Do you think the children of Kavanagh's generation will have a similar rift?
  5. What are the social classes in Kavanagh's society, and how rigid are they? Who are the Elites and the Help? Does Kavanagh's opinion of either of these groups evolve over the course of the novel?
  6. Why do you think the camping trip meant so much to Kavanagh?
  7. Do you think Kavanagh's unit received adequate training to be successful Defenders? Why or why not?
  8. How do you think Kavanagh's life would have played out if he and Hifa had become Breeders?
  9. Several times Kavanagh's unit is visited by the blond politician. What is his significance? What does Kavanagh learn from him about the world of the Elites? What happens to Defenders if Others make it over the Wall? Why is this rule in place?
  10. The story is told through Kavanagh's eyes. How would the Captain's—or Hifa's—take on the events at the Wall differ from his account?
  11. Describe the legal process after Kavanagh's arrest. How does the law operate in Kavanagh's society? How are the laws different at sea?
  12. What do Hifa and Kavanagh find at the island? Does this run counter to the narrative they've been told about life beyond the Wall? How does the fate of the flotilla act as a lesson in human nature?
  13. What is in store for Hifa and Kavanagh at the novel's close? What do you think happens next?


Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of W.W. Norton & Company. 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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