1) Is there a hero in The Orchid Thief? An
2) Is the book subjective? Objective? Or a different genre
3) Some people describe this as "literary non-fiction." Is that
how you would characterize it?
4) Susan Orlean resists the temptation to feel possessed by the
orchids but she is willing to undergo great trials in order to
satisfy her passion for reporting. Is this passion evident in her
5) The passion for collecting is described in the book as a
means of infusing meaning into life, subjecting the vicissitudes to
some order, acquiring the ability to mold and change the nature of
things, i.e. create life itself. What other means do humans employ
to achieve the same ends, and how effective are they?
6) John Laroche would not describe himself as an orchid person.
To him the orchid is a temporary albeit very intense passion, a
means to an end, not an end in itself. How would you analyze the
difference between Laroche''s motives in collecting orchids and the
regular orchid collectors we visit in the course of the book?
7) Laroche wrestles verbally with the thought that acting within
what he considered the bounds of the law for his own immediate gain
was ultimately an act of altruism. His rape of the Fakahatchee
would force the law to be changed and close the loophole that
allowed him to poach rare and wild orchids form an Indian
reservation in the first place, thus protecting the species in the
wild, and securing it for the marketplace at the same time. Is this
the thought process of an amoral character? Or is he just an
everyday charlatan? Discuss.
8) Laroche makes a very telling statement: "When I had my own
nursery I sometimes felt like all the people swarming around were
going to eat me alive. I felt like they were that gigantic
parasitic plant and I was the dying host tree." Is Laroche playing
the role of the victim, the martyr to a (preferably lost, but
grand) cause or is he in control of his life by making a living off
other people''s weaknesses, whether it be a passion for orchids or
9) Orlean seems fascinated by the story of Darwin and the study
of the orchid with the eighteen inch nectary and the moth with the
eighteen inch proboscis to feed on it: the idea that two totally
different life forms evolved specifically to serve each other; that
neither could have existed without the other. What has the evidence
of the orchid''s adaptability altered your perception of the
theories of evolution?
10) Orlean interrupts her central narrative of John Laroche with
stories of the orchid hunters of the past, the contemporary state
for Florida and other histories. How does this affect the pace of
11) Is the framework she has devised successful?
12) The Native Americans on the reservation are entitled by one
law to remove protected species from their land. Is this law
13) Orlean seems surprised by the abundance of sexual references
to orchids in their book. Yet the flower is the prime sexual organ
of most plants. Seek out a florist with a good representation of
orchids. What alternative descriptions of these exotic flowers can
14) What is the real core, the central character, of the book:
Laroche? Florida? Orchids? Native Americans? Darwin? Orlean?
15) As a reader, what did you expect from a book about
16) How did your experience for reading The Orchid
Thief compare to what you expected?
17) The working title of The Orchid Thief was
"Passion." What does that suggest about the themes in the book?
18) What, besides orchids, could generate a book like this?
19) Are there other subcultures or other objects of desire that
might be as provocative?