1. In the preceding essay, John Irving writes about his
frustration in trying to determine what The World According
to Garp is about. He finally accepts his young son''s
conclusion: "The fear of death or the death of children - or of
anyone you love." In your opinion, is this the most overt theme of
2. Feminism comes in many flavors in the novel. The most
obvious, perhaps, are Jenny Field''s straightforward brand of
feminism, Ellen Jamesian''s embittered, victimized type, and
Roberta Muldoon''s nurturing, female-embracing style. But are there
other characters who portray less distinct, murkier shades of
feminism? What is feminism in the lives of Helen Holm, Charlotte
the prostitute, Mrs. Ralph, and other women in the novel? And what
does feminism mean to Garp?
3. How does The World According to Garp
ultimately assess the prospects of understanding between the sexes?
Support your opinion with examples from the novel.
4. In the novel, we read about a variety of biographers''
theories on why Garp stopped writing - and what motivated him to
write again - albeit for a very short-lived time. Helen agreed that
Garp''s collision with his own mortality brought him back to his
craft. If you were the biographer of T. S. Garp, what would your
5. Garp''s vehemence against "political true believers" is a
major force of the novel and he maintains that they are the sworn
enemy of the artist. The Ellen Jamesians are a farcical portrayal
of this notion. In your opinion, what is the relationship between
art and politics-and is it possible for them to successfully
6. After the terrible accident in which Duncan is maimed, many
pages pass before Walt''s death is acknowledged to the reader. And
then, it is given a tragic-comedic twist; Garp announces in an
Alice Fletcher-like lisp that he "mish him." What was the effect of
this narrative device on you? Was the sorrow intensified or
7. The narrator''s voice is ironically detached and almost
flippant-even when delivering the most emotionally charged,
heartbreaking moments in the novel. In what ways does the narrator
contrast and play against the novel''s dramatic elements? How is it
similar - and different - from the voice of Garp?
8. People who have read and loved The World According to
Garp consistently comment on the extraordinary ability of
the novel to provoke laughter and tears simultaneously. Was this
your experience as well? If so, how do you think this effect is
9. What is the significance of the meta-fiction - the stories
within the story? How does Garp''s "writing" voice compare to our
perception of him as a character?
10. Over the years The World According to Garp
has entered the canon of literature. How do you think it is
perceived now in comparison to when it was first published in the
late ''70s? Is the American moral center much different today than
it was then? For example, despite Garp''s and Helen''s
indiscretions, their relationship is still portrayed as loving and
supportive. Do you think that today''s social climate is as
accepting of these kind of transgressions?
11. In his afterword, John Irving admits to having been
"positively ashamed of how much lust was in the book. Indeed, every
character in the story who indulges his or her lust is severely
punished." How do you feel about that condemnation? Is the world an
arguably more precarious place because of lust?
12. What do the peripheral characters contribute to the novel?
Is there a common thread they share . . . Mrs. Ralph, the young
hippie, Dean Bodger, Ernie Holm, "Old Tinch," the Fletchers?
13. The World According to Garp has been
heralded as a literary masterpiece while at the same time enjoying
phenomenal commercial success-a rare feat for a novel. What are the
elements of high literary merit in the novel? Likewise, what
aspects of the book land it squarely into the mainstream
consciousness? In your opinion, how is this balance achieved?
14. Have you read any other John Irving novels? If so, did you
find any similarities between them in style or tone?