In 1997 Philip Roth won the Pulitzer Prize for American
Pastoral. In 1998 he received the National Medal of Arts at
the White House and in 2002 the highest award of the American
Academy of Arts and Letters, the Gold Medal in Fiction. He has
twice won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics
Circle Award. He has won the PEN/Faulkner Award three times. In
2005 The Plot Against America received the Society of
American Historians' Prize for "the outstanding historical novel on
an American theme for 2003-2004." Recently Roth received PEN's two
most prestigious awards: in 2006 the PEN/Nabokov Award and in 2007
the PEN/Bellow Award for achievement in American fiction. Roth is
the only living American novelist to have his work published in a
comprehensive, definitive edition by the Library of America. In
2011 he received the National Humanities Medal at the White House,
and was later named the fourth recipient of the Man Booker
1. To begin, answer these questions using the book as your
guide. Read aloud the relevant sentences or passages.
a. Why is Janie Wyatt Kepesh's hero [pp. 48-58]?
b. Why is Caroline Lyons Kepesh's lover [pp. 46-48, 69-76]?
c. Why does Miranda stay behind after the party [pp. 7-9]?
d. Why does Elena Hrabovsky come to Kepesh when she's unhappy about
her life with men? What is Kepesh's response to her unhappiness
e. Why is Kepesh's description of Consuela's vulva so detailed [p.
103]? Why the aquatic and artistic references? What human emotion
informs this passage?
2. What are the sources of pleasure in Consuela Castillo and
David Kepesh's relationship? What do they offer each other? What
allows each to "master" the other? Describe Consuela.
3. Why does Kepesh become obsessively jealous? Do his pleasure
and jealousy derive from the same source?
4. What is the place of music in Kepesh's life? What about
5. After Consuela leaves Kepesh, his friend the poet George
O'Hearn warns him to stay away from her: "This is the pathology in
its purest form. . . . You violated the law of aesthetic distance.
You sentimentalized the aesthetic experience with this girl-you
personalized it, you sentimentalized it, and you lost the sense of
separation essential to your enjoyment" [p. 99]. Why would George
suggest, and Kepesh be receptive to, the notion that sexual
relations be governed by aesthetic laws?
6. Kepesh agrees with George that "attachment is ruinous," finds
those who voluntarily give up their freedom "ridiculous," and feels
that "marriage at its best is a sure-fire stimulant to the thrills
of licentious subterfuge" [p. 111]. His son Kenny, who struggles to
make his own marriage work, accuses him of gross irresponsibility,
of confusing sexual freedom with vulgar self-interest, of behaving
like a lecherous fool. Does the novel resolve these conflicting
points of view? Does it endorse one position over the other or
simply bring them into clarifying opposition?
7. Why doesn't Kepesh's son Kenny listen to his father? Is
Kepesh not giving Kenny good advice?
8. In what ways is The Dying Animal about the
intersection of America's cultural history with David Kepesh's
personal history? How does he interpret the sixties? How does the
sexual revolution "revolutionize" his life? What does it cost
9. Kepesh argues that family life is childish and that
"emancipated manhood never has had a social spokesman or an
educational system. It has no social status because people don't
want it to have social status" [p. 112]. Why do people refuse to
give "emancipated manhood" social status? Do they give "emancipated
womanhood" social status? If Kepesh were gay or female, would that
alter your response to the book?
10. Why does Roth include the extended section on George
O'Hearn's death? What is the motive behind O'Hearn's final
desperate attempt to undress his wife [pp. 121-3]?
11. How does Consuela's illness abolish the age difference
between her and Kepesh?
12. Even though its last word is "finished," and even though its
final pages are filled with anxiety about death, The Dying
Animal is open-ended. Why does Roth choose to close the
book in this way? What is likely to happen to David Kepesh? Will he
ignore his listener's warning and go to Consuela? If so, will it be
the end of him?