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Guide to CWRU Common Reading 2022: Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions

1. What does the oft repeated phrase "to see the elephant" mean? How is it used by the various characters? What is the elephant—as a metaphor, what does it represent?

2. Why does Ling choose to work as a bone collector? What satisfactions does it provide him? How does he finally come to see himself and his place in America?

3. What are the many indignities Anna May Wong faces as the first Asian-American actress in Hollywood? How does she respond to the rejections, even from her own father?

4. What happens when Anna visits China - does she find peace, a sense of belonging, or more exclusion and an even greater sense of alienation?How does she finally come to see herself and her place in America?

5. In what ways does the narrator of this section cast doubt on the events of Vincent Chin's murder? What difference does the uncertainty make, if any, in the final outcome?

6. The narrator questions himself continually: "Vincent was my friend. So how could I leave him?" How blameworthy is he, how at fault? What do you think most of us would do in the same situation? Do you have any idea how you might react?

7. It is now the twenty-first century. In what way does John feel marginalized by his Chinese heritage: "Growing up he felt burdened." Once he arrives in China, how does he feel?

8. How do the three previous stories come together with John's story in China?

9. Which of the four stories do you find most absorbing, and why?

10. Consider the frequent jokes the characters tell, usually directed at themselves. How did you respond when first reading them? Did you laugh? Were you put off? Angered? Why do you think the characters tell such disparaging jokes at their own expense?

11. To what extent is America a more welcoming place than it was when the first two stories took place?

(Questions gathered from Additional questions can be found on pp.268-269 of the book.)