The Forest Lover by Susan Vreeland: A Discussion Guide

Use this extensive guide when teaching Susan Vreeland's novel The Forest Lover.
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Updated on: October 10, 2006
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Literary Examination Topics

Some of the questions listed above are suitable topics for papers of literary analysis. In addition, here are some more involved ones.

  1. Much of a novel involves the interaction between characters and the dynamics operating in pairs or triads of people. Analyze how Emily affects Alice, and vice versa, as a pair. How does the triad of Alice, Lizzie, and Emily operate? How does Emily affect Dede, Jessica, Sophie, and Harold? And how do these characters affect Emily? Assess how these dynamics change throughout the course of the novel covering more than two decades.

  2. Claude du Bois insisted on calling Emily Madame Courageuse. Why? What did he see in her, which is to say, what qualities did he see in her and why was he attracted to her? Given her life experience up to that time, in what way was she courageous with him? How was she courageous throughout her life? Analyze what type of courage her desires and circumstances demanded? Conclude your analysis with an examination of the relation of courage to desire.

  3. Voice for a fictional character consists of lexicon (a person's range of vocabulary), typical or repeated expressions, degree of formality or informality, length of sentences, use of sentence fragments or full sentences. Emily speaks in several different voices, both in interior monologue and in actual conversation. Describe them, and identify examples. Read examples aloud to the class. Infer why she speaks this way at each particular moment. Compose a new scene in which you demonstrate one of these voices.

  4. Part of literary study involves the tracing of literary influences. Examine all of the references to Whitman and Leaves of Grass, which includes "Song of Myself," in The Forest Lover. Why do you think Emily was so attracted to this poet? In Chapter Twenty-nine, Emily reads a passage from Whitman's Leaves of Grass to Jessica which begins, "The masters know the earth's words and use them more than audible words." How does Emily absorb this and apply it? What other expressions of Whitman's philosophy take root and grow in Emily's thinking? In Harold's? When do we hear Emily's voice as influenced by Whitman's? Find in Leaves of Grass some passage not appearing in The Forest Lover that would have appealed to Emily. Explain why she would have liked it. (T-T)

  5. A classical definition of tragedy includes these elements: The tragic hero/heroine is a person with high social status, much respected. He or she has many fine qualities, but his/her character is marred by a tragic flaw which brings about his or her ultimate downfall. Often that downfall occurs at the apogee of the person's life. As a result of coming so close to the desired achievement or outcome yet failing, the reader (or audience, if the work is a play) experiences a cathartic feeling mixing upliftment and disappointment. How does each of these elements play out in Sophie's life?

For further information, see The Life of Emily Carr.

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