Socratic Seminars


“Guests of a Nation” by Frank O’Connor (pages 43 – 54)

Socratic Leaders: Devin and Brian

  • What do you think the significance of the title is?
  • What was ironic about the characters’ names?
  • What was the author’s purpose for including the old woman in the story?
  • Why does Hawkins light the lamp? (Note: Hawkins is an atheist, so consider this.)
  • What do you think Frank O’Connor was saying about human beings and their connections to one another? (Theme)
  • How important is the setting of this story? (In what way?)
  • Did you expect the murder scene to go down the way it did? (Was is a murder scene?)
  • What did the card game represent?
  • Why do you think Belcher puts his feet in the ashes? (page 46, 47, 49) Is it literal or metaphorical or both? If metaphorical, what might it represent?
  • Why did Frank O’Connor include the arguments about religion in this story?
  • What is the theme of this story?
  • Why was Donovan chosen as the executioner?
  • What does “We were chums” mean to you?
  • Why does Bonaparte feel sad when he finds out that Belcher and Hawkins were hostages?
  • What does it mean when Hawkins said, “The capitalists pays the priests to tell you about the next world so as you won’t notice what the bastards are up to in this” (page 47).
  • How is this story relevant today?
  • Why does Bonaparte feel that the two Englishmen are “a million miles away” after their executions?
  • Why can’t Hawkins believe that the men are going to execute them?
  • Why do you think that Belcher was so talkative before his execution?

Nature, Religion, Captivity, War

“Astronomer’s Wife” by Kay Boyle (pages 54 – 60)

Socratic Leaders: Molly and Rebecca

  • Which of the characters are static? Which are dynamic? How do you know?
  • Are Katherine and the plumber the most important characters in the story?
  • How are the astronomer and the plumber different? similar?
  • What did you think of the story? Explain
  • What do you think we’re the major themes in this story?
  • In what time period is this story set? How did the time affect the character’s behavior? Do people still act like they acted?
  • How would you describe the relationships between the characters?
  • Which characters are static? Dynamic?
  • How did the author describe the different characters?
  • Did you like the different styles of characterization? Explain.
  • Who was your favorite character? Your least favorite? Explain.
  • What is your opinion of the astronomer, in particular, the way he interacted with his wife?
  • What changes does the wife go through in this story?
  • What role does Katherine play in her husband’s life?
  • Why does Katherine go under the ground in the end?
  • Describe the relationship that Katherine and her husband have.
  • Why do you think the wife is so fascinated with the plumber?
  • What does the ground and the act of going underground represent?

Observation: It is interesting to think about how being around certain people can change you (for better or worse).

“Shiloh” by Bobbie Ann Mason (pages 60 – 71)

Socratic Leaders: Shayla and Jessy

  • What is your opinion of Leroy and Norma Jean’s relationship?
  • Why do you think Mabel told the story about the dachshund?
  • If Leroy knew that Norma Jean was going to leave him, why didn’t he do more to prevent her leaving?
  • Why did Norma Jean want to leave Leroy?
  • What does Shiloh symbolize to Mabel?
  • Does the story show Leroy in a sympathetic light? Explain.
  • It has been said that men, especially men in traditionally male-dominated, solitary professions–like truck driving–have trouble expressing emotion. Do you believe this is true of Leroy? Why or why not?
  • What role did Leroy and Normal Jean’s baby’s death play in their relationship?
  • How would adding another point of view (such as Norma Jean’s) change this story?
  • How did the fact that Leroy was gone so much for 16 years affect their marriage?
  • Compare the Astronomer from “Astronomer’s Wife” to Leroy.
  • Do you believe that Norma Jean resents Leroy?
  • What is the significance of the last line of the story?
  • Do you think the narration is intrusive/distracting?
  • What is the deal with the log cabin?
  • What happens to the characters, once they get to Shiloh?
  • Is the fact that Mabel wants Leroy and Norma Jean to visit a Civil War battleground to reignite their wedding? How does the setting contribute to the story overall?
  • What role reversals do we see in the story?
  • Let’s talk about Mabel … and the dust ruffle …
  • Is Leroy intimidated by Norma Jean?
  • Is there a connection between Leroy’s injury and Norma Jean’s interest in fitness?

Setting, Symbolism, Relationships, Conflict, Character

“A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner (pages 71 – 80)

Socratic Leaders: Maria and Crystian

  • Overall what did you think of the story?
  • What was significant about the point of view of this story?
  • How would the story been different if this had been told from Emily’s point of view? her servant’s point of view? a third-person omniscient point of view?
  • What did you think of the way the author ordered the events in this story (the non-linear approach)?
  • Were you able to understand the plot–in particular the ending? What happened?
  • Why did Emily “settle” for Homer, when he was clearly “below” her father’s and her previous standards?
  • What are some of the ah-ha moments you experienced during the reading of this story?
  • How did the setting (and atmosphere) contribute to this story?
  • What role does gossip play in this story?
  • What is your opinion of the servant? Did he know about the body? What role did his race play in his actions or lack thereof? Consider the story’s time.
  • Why do you think the servant was never seen again, after he let the townsfolk into Emily’s house?
  • How did Homer’s sexuality affect the storyline?
  • If our assumption about how Homer died is correct, what was Emily’s motivation for killing Homer?
  • Why would no one act regarding Emily’s taxes, and the odor that emanated from her house after Homer’s disappearance?
  • Were you prepared for the end of the story?
  • Why did Emily have so much control over everyone in town?
  • Why do you think Homer spent so much time with Emily, if he wasn’t interested her in romantically?
  • What do you think the title rose stands for in this story?
  • What was the townspeople’s motivation for attending Emily’s funeral?
  • Why did the townsfolk go to such trouble to find Emily’s extended family?
  • Has your opinion of this story changed after our discussion?


“Araby” by James Joyce (pages 80 – 85)

Socratic Leaders: Derrick and Tanner

  • What did you think of the story? Please qualify your answer.
  • Why do you think he watched Mangan’s sister so intently?
  • Why did he want to go to Araby?
  • Is the narrator’s behavior (toward his crush) normal or commonplace? Do people still do this today? (Think about social media, for example.)
  • Can any of you relate to the narrator? Explain.
  • Would you describe the narrator’s situation as “love at first sight,” “lust at first sight,” “creepy stalker,” or something else completely? Is his affection toward her or the idea of her? Explain.
  • Is love at first sight ever rational?
  • How old do you think the narrator is?
  • Why didn’t he spend any money at the bazaar?
  • Can you relate to the feelings that the narrator feels after he speaks to Mangan’s sister?
  • Would having another perspective enhance the story at all? (Give an example of a perspective that would improve upon it, or explain how the given perspective is the most effective one.)
  • Who are static characters in this story? dynamic?
  • What would have improved this story?
  • What is the climax of this story?

Anticlimactic, Coming of Age, Rejection, Love, Reality Vs. Fantasy


“A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty (pages 85 – 96)

Socratic Leaders: Stacie and Sam

  • What was your overall impression of the story?
  • Should Phoenix have been walking alone for such a distance in your opinion?
  • What do you think the hunter’s impression of Pheonix was?
  • Do you find it ironic that the hunter says that he wishes he had money to give to Phoenix? Why or why not?
  • What role did race, age, and gender play in the interaction between Phoenix and the hunter?
  • What was the significance of Phoenix’s journey?
  • Did Phoenix actually have a grandson at home?
  • Is Phoenix a liar?
  • Is Phoenix “crazy”?
  • What is the significance of Phoenix buying her grandson a windmill at the end? (Do you believe she would even buy it?)
  • What was your opinion of the very last part of the story? (“Then her slow step began on the stairs, going down.”)
  • How do your emotions change throughout the story (toward Phoenix and toward the story in general)?
  • How does the setting affect the story, in particular the time (1941 or earlier)?
  • How did the different people Phoenix encounters treat her?
  • What was the story’s climax?
  • What is the theme of the story?
  • What is the significance of Phoenix’s name?
  • Can you relate to Phoenix’s journey (probably metaphorically)?
  • Eudora Welty has stated that this story is a symbol for how a writer works. What are your thoughts about that?
  • Authors use literary devices such as metaphor, simile, and allusions to add layers of meaning to their stories. What is Welty saying through figurative language in this piece? What are the major symbols?

Rebirth, Symbol, “Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

“A Rocking Horse Winner” by D.H. Lawrence (pages 92 – 106)

Socratic Leaders: Alyssa and Laura

  • What did you think of the story in general?
  • How might you change the climax, if you were the writer?
  • Discuss the irony in this story.
  • What is the theme of the story?
  • What role does luck play in this story?
  • In what way(s) did you relate to this story?
  • Have you ever gone out of your way to help someone else to your own detriment?
  • Discuss the role that “voices” played in this story.
  • What would you have done, if you were in Paul’s position?
  • Why is Paul so desperate for his mother’s love?
  • Explain the mother’s response to Paul’s illness (and death)?
  • Is it possible for a parent to NOT love a child? What are some clues to her true feelings?
  • Throughout the story, descriptions of the boy’s eyes kept popping up. Why is that?
  • What role does atmosphere or setting play in this story? (Think specifically of the house …)
  • Is Paul addicted to his horse (and the process of riding it and predicting winners) or is it something else?
  • How does GREED come into play in this story? How about SELFISHNESS?
  • Is there a paranormal element to this story?
  • Do you sense any irony in the final paragraph of the story?
  • Did Paul’s death earn HIM anything? Did it earn his family anything? If it earned him or them anything, was it worth the price he paid?

Irony, Current Events compared to Event in the Story, Motherly Love, Plot

The Facts Concerning the Recent Carnival of Crime in Connecticut” by Mark Twain

Socratic Leaders: Sabrina and Matt

  • Was the narrator’s conscious good, evil or both? Explain.
  • Was the main character static or dynamic? How do you know?
  • Why did the narrator’s conscious behave the way he behaved?
  • Do you believe the man’s conscious was actually there, or was it a figment of the narrator’s imagination? How do you know?
  • Define satire.
  • Can someone live without a conscious?
  • Do you agree with a conscious being represented as an inconvenient element to one’s life, or should it be portrayed as a necessary element?
  • How did narrator deal with encountering a mockery of himself? How would you deal with the same?
  • Did the narrator’s aunt have any inkling about what was going on? How do you know?
  • What role did smoking play in this story?
  • Can you think of  something you’ve done recently that elicited a feeling of regret? Explain.
  • How did the relationship between the narrator and his aunt change from the beginning of the story to the end?
  • What did you think of the story?
  • Are people born good, bad, or neutral?
  • What shapes people’s conscious? Experience? Parenting? Religion? Nature? Nurture? Physical chemistry? Something else? Explain your opinion.

Satire. Conscious. Building character.

“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Socratic Leaders: Jessy and Maria

  • Did you enjoy the story?
  • Was the narrator reliable?
  • Did you agree with John’s treatment of his wife?
  • Did John have good intentions?
  • Is this a feminist piece of writing? Why or why not? (What does “feminist text” even mean?)
  • Is this a horror text? Why or why not?
  • What was the significance of the color yellow? Would it have mattered if the wallpaper was another color?
  • Was the end of the story what you expected it to be? Did you predict a similar or different end?
  • How would this have been different if it had been written in modern times?
  • Why do you think they kept the narrator away from her baby?
  • How has the word “creeping” changed from the time of this story until now?
  • Is the woman in the wallpaper real or representational? If representational, what or whom does she represent?
  • Would it be possible to develop this story into a full-length novel? What would be necessary to make this happen?
  • Why so much description of the wallpaper?

Cliffhanger ending, Horror VS. Feminist, “creep”

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