An outhouse at Arcadia smells like wet muskrat. Children are reared in a Kid Herd. Groff has taken a quaint, easily caricatured community and given it true universality, not just the knee-jerk kind that Arcadian platitudes espoused. Even more unexpectedly, she has expanded this period piece so that it stretches from to , coaxing forth a remarkable amount of suspense from the way her characters change over time.
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Thinking of Arcadia at its best moments, which of its values and tenets seem healthy and important for an individual? For a social group? What are the potential threats from within the organization and without to such a communal social structure?
How might these be guarded against or managed? Consider the different ways Bit and Helle think about their upbringing. Where can you find examples of this being put into action in the novel? What might this mean for your own life? Why is private property not allowed in Arcadia? What effect do you think this has on the identities of those living or raised there?
What elements of your identity are independent of what you own? How are these two men different? In what ways are they successful or failed leaders? What have been her strengths and weaknesses as a member of Arcadia? As a wife? Does her admission to Abe that he always gets what he wants, for example, suggest strength or dependency? What has Hannah been like as a mother to Bit?
What healthy and positive effects has she had on his growth and development? What qualities does he possess as a man or a father that we can attribute to Hannah? Late in the novel, Bit confronts his mother about the profound difficulties her depression caused him as a boy What were the long-term effects of this on the kind of person Bit becomes?
How do we determine which are healthy and which are not? How does that idea serve him? Real or imagined, how might a Quest be psychologically important or effective as a response to emotional difficulty? Soon, though, she becomes someone Bit visits and needs in a more realistic way. What does she offer him that is so valuable? In what ways is she different from many of the women in the novel? What do you understand about her nature and behavior?
Consider the various women who gather to help when Hannah falls ill: Astrid; Luisa, the nurse; Dr. Ellis Keefe. What valuable qualities does each of these women possess? In what ways are they different? Try it. Go for twelve hours. Keep track and write down the various responses and realizations you have.
Afterward, assess the benefits and dangers and what you think a healthy relationship with such technologies might be. As an adult, in the midst of his troubles with his mother and wife, he does so again, this time for himself. Read his, and then try to make your own. Be specific to your personal experience. Then consider how such a gesture affects you and what role it might play in our everyday lives.
From ’60s Patchouli and Free Love to Darker Days a Half-Century Later