Pat Conroy has created a huge, brash thunderstorm of a novel,
stinging with honesty and resounding with drama. Spanning forty
years, this is the story of turbulent Tom Wingo, his gifted and
troubled twin sister, Savannah, and their struggle to triumph over
the dark and tragic legacy of the extraordinary family into which
they were born.
Filled with the vanishing beauty of the South Carolina Low Country
as well as the dusty glitter of New York City, The Prince
of Tides is Pat Conroy at his very best.
1. In the prologue Pat Conroy sets up many of the novel's
themes: his characters' love of the Low Country and the South;
the power Lila Wingo had over her children, who all adored
her; their love of the natural world that shaped all three of
their futures. In the midst of this idyllic piece of glorious
signature Conroy writing, what signals does he give to his
readers about the darkness that is to come in this
2. The novel begins when Tom Wingo, a recently fired teacher
and coach, married to a successful physician, and father of
three, receives a call from his obviously manipulative mother
asking him to go to New York to help his twin sister,
Savannah, who has once again attempted suicide. His three
young daughters had just expressed embarrassment that he,
unlike their friends' fathers, stays home and cooks meals
while it is their mother who goes to work. What other event
takes place before he leaves that makes him feel a failure,
what he calls "a mediocre man"?
3. When Tom appears to be teasing his young daughters, he tells
them that there is only one rule of life they must follow:
"Never listen to what your parents say. Parents were put on
earth for the sole purpose of making their children miserable.
It is one of God's most important laws. . . . Both Mama and I
are screwing you up. If we knew how we were doing it we would
stop because we adore you. But we're parents and we can't help
it. . . . We are your enemies." Are there any examples of good
parenting in this novel that would argue against this
4. Pat Conroy willingly admits that his novels are informed to a
great degree by his life experiences. The Great
Santini was about growing up as the son of a
physically violent and abusive Marine fighter pilot.
"I created a boy named Ben Meechum and gave him my story,"
says Conroy. In The Lords of Discipline
he took on his military college, The Citadel, in a
book that resulted in a twenty-years-plus feud between the
author and his school, which was only recently resolved. In
writing The Prince of Tides Conroy
attempts to come to terms with his childhood and with the
realization that his mother may well have been the more
powerful parent and the source behind the self-deception
and family secrets that crippled her children. And yet he says
in the novel, "In families there are no crimes beyond
forgiveness." Do you believe him when he says
5. The Prince of Tides is filled with
stories of transformation, for example, his father's wartime
conversion to Catholicism, his sister Savannah's becoming a
New Yorker. Can you name others?
6. The idea of twins has deep roots in literature, from Romulus
and Remus in mythology, to Jacob and Esau in the Bible, to the
twins in the more recent novel The Memory Keeper's
Daughter. Can you think of other examples in literature?
How are Tom and Savannah alike? How are they
7. When Tom first encounters Dr. Lowenstein, his sister's
psychiatrist, he is belligerent both to her and in his
attitude toward the entire city of New York. Why, do you
think, is he so suspicious? Do you feel she acted in the best
interests of Savannah by involving her brother in her therapy?
Tom is a teacher and Lowenstein is a psychoanalyst. In the
end they help each other in ways they might never have
predicted. Are the tools or the impulses that create
teacher-coaches and therapists similar? How are they
different? Does their relationship have anything to say about
class issues? Give other examples of problems of
communication brought about by class differences.
8. What psychological tools besides denial does Tom use to
distance himself from pain?
9. Why, do you feel, does Pat Conroy use flashbacks throughout
the novel? Do you find this technique helpful to you as a
10. One might say that the truest example of integrity seems to be
exemplified in the character of Luke, the older brother. Do
you agree? Why or why not?
11. The natural world is clearly revered by Conroy. Can you find
passages about nature that exemplify his power as a
12. Give examples of how Pat Conroy uses animals to advance
13. Questions are raised regarding the price of gender throughout
the novel. For instance, how does Lila treat Savannah
differently from her sons? How does Savannah deal with the
family's secrets as opposed to the way her brothers deal with
14. Do you think there is such a thing as a southern novel? Is
The Prince of Tides a southern
novel? If so, what does that mean to you?
15. Who is the Prince of Tides?