Corrections (Franzen)

Discussion Questions 
1. Consider the atmosphere of suburban St. Jude (named for the patron saint of hopeless causes) in comparison to the more sophisticated surroundings of Philadelphia and New York. Why has the Lamberts' neighborhood evolved into a gerontocratic refuge? "What Gary hated most about the Midwest was how unpampered and unprivileged he felt in it." What negative and positive qualities are attributed to the Midwest? How are the characters shaped by the cities or towns they live in?

2. What is the significance of "one last Christmas"? Is Enid's obsession with the holidays predictable for a mother of her generation or is it, as Gary fears, "a symptom of a larger malaise" ?

3. Why does it take so long for the Lamberts to acknowledge the seriousness of Alfred's illness? Is Al's deteriorating mental health solely a result of Parkinson's disease? How are his physical deterioration and mental decline linked? "Irresponsibility and undiscipline were the bane of his existence, and it was another instance of that Devil's logic that his own untimely affliction should consist of his body's refusal to obey him." Why are these ailments especially humiliating for Alfred?

4. What is the source of Gary and Caroline's marital problems? Whose version of the truth do you believe? Why does Gary feel so alienated from Caleb and Aaron? What draws him to Jonah? Compare this family with the glimpses we have of the young Lamberts. In what ways is Gary different, as a father, from Alfred?

5. What is your impression of Enid and Alfred's marriage? Which version of their marriage do you believe-Enid's image of Al as a pessimistic brooder or Al's image of Enid as an unrealistic optimist? In what ways do Enid's capacity for hope and Alfred's low expectations manifest themselves? How do their temperamental differences play out in the course of the narrative?

6. Discuss the alliances that formed in the Lambert family after the children left home. What occurrences might account for Denise's loyalty to Al and for Chip and Gary's sympathy for Enid? How do these alliances shift during the course of the novel?

7. Why does Denise choose to lose her virginity to Don Armour? Which qualities of her co-worker simultaneously attract and repel her? Why does Al sacrifice his job for Denise's privacy?

8. What is the significance of the title The Corrections? How does the idea of "corrections" play out during the course of the story? What does "What made correction possible also doomed it" mean?

9. What is revealed about the dynamics of the young Lambert family during the liver dinner? When Al finds Chip asleep at the dinner table, what upsets him more: concern for his son or disgust with Enid? Do we know the source of Enid's neglect? "There was something almost tasty and almost sexy in letting the annoying boy be punished by her husband." To what extent are the book's children shaped by their upbringing, and to what extent is their character predetermined?

10. What do Chip's relationships with women reveal about his character? How does his attitude toward women change over the course of the novel? Considering the details of his earlier relationships, does it seem probable that his marriage to Alison Schulman will survive? How did his time in Lithuania prepare Chip to deal with Alfred's decline and death?

11. Is Alfred's death the key to Enid's happiness? How does the quality of her life change once Al is hospitalized? What reaction do his children have to his death? Are we meant to believe that their father's death is the catalyst for their "corrections" ? For how much of the unhappiness in the Lambert household was Al responsible?

12. Are elements of the Lambert family universal characteristics of the American family? How do the world in general and family life in particular change during the half century that the novel spans? In what ways is life better now than when the Lambert children were young? In what ways is it worse?

13. Which character has undergone the most fundamental change? Is the change positive or negative? Have any of the characters evolved enough for their "corrections" to endure? Are these corrections deliberate, or are they the result of outside occurrences that force the characters to change?

14. Discuss the different moral codes members of the Lambert family adhere to. Consider Enid's fear of her children's "immorality," Gary's obsession with Caroline's dishonesty, Alfred's refusal to engage in insider trading, Denise's rage at Gary for having betrayed the sibling code of honor, and Chip's animus against the W Corporation and big business in general. Which of these judgments seem most valid? Does the book favor one moral view over another?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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