2 short story questions

“Sea Oak”

George Saunders

  1. How would you define “The American Dream”?
  1. The narrator works at Joysticks, a kind of Hooters for women where male waiters put their goods on display. The narrator and his extended family live at Sea Oak, a subsidized housing project, where there’s no sea and no oak. How do these circumstances and settings reflect and/or challenge “The American Dream”?
  1. Saunders gives fictional names to actions, places, and television shows; he capitalizes these labels. For instance, the narrator works as a “Pilot” at “Joysticks,” where each shift begins with the manager announcing “Shirts Off”; Aunt Bernie works at “DrugTown”; Min and Jade watch TV shows with titles like “How My Child Died Violently.” Why does Saunders capitalize these labels? By using these labels, what might Saunders be implying about American culture.
  1. Min and Jade have a certain way of speaking to each other. How does the way Min and Jade speak differ from the way the narrator speaks, from the way Aunt Bernie speaks? Compare the way Aunt Bernie speaks at the beginning of the story to the way she speaks at the end of the story. What does the way these characters speak reveal about them and their circumstances?
  1. How would you characterize Aunt Bernie’s attitude at the beginning of the story? How would you characterize her attitude at the end? How does her attitude change? Why does her attitude change? What does this change of attitude have to say about “The American Dream”?
  1. Are the main character’s—the narrator, his sister Min, her baby Troy, their cousin Jade, and her baby Mac—circumstances better off at the end of the story than in the beginning? How might the main characters’ circumstances have improved, stayed the same, or worsened? Do you think the group will move out of Sea Oak, as planned? Why or why not?



Mary Gaitskill

1. The narrator, Debby Roe, expresses a number of conflicting feelings. Characterize how her feelings toward both her family and her boss are conflicted. What does she find comforting and/or attractive about each? What does she find annoying and/or repulsive?

  1. The narrator seems to both endure and enjoy several erotic, sadomasochistic encounters with the lawyer who employs her as his secretary. Is this story primarily about sex? If we remove sex for the equation, what else might this story have to say about the human condition?
  1. At the end of the story, the lawyer runs for mayor of Westland. The narrator states that “for the first time, I felt an uncomplicated disgust for the lawyer.” Why does narrator feel this way? Does her disgust have anything to do with her sadomasochistic encounters with the lawyer? What does the use of the word “uncomplicated” imply about the narrator’s previous feelings toward the lawyer?
  1. At the end of the story, the narrator gets a call from a newspaper reporter looking for information on the lawyer, who the reporter claims has “an awful reputation” and “no business running for public office.” Why does the narrator decline to speak to the reporter and thus protect the lawyer?
  1. What does the end of the story have to say about the connection between sex and politics? How do the narrator’s conflicted feelings about the lawyer complicate the use of sexual behavior to demonize politicians?
  1. Is the narrator a victim of her boss, the lawyer? How? How not?