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Becoming Mary Mehan
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Becoming Mary Mehan

Written by Jennifer ArmstrongAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Jennifer Armstrong

· Laurel Leaf
· eBook · August 27, 2002 · $6.99 · 978-0-375-89013-0 (0-375-89013-0)

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Readers Guide

1. Why does Mairhe decide to change her name to Mary? How does this reflect her state of mind after the war?

2. In the first chapter of The Dreams of Mairhe Mehan, Mike is called a “damned Irish nigra.” (p. 7) What other types of racial prejudice appear in the novel? Where do you see discrimination in today’s society?

3. In The Dreams of Mairhe Mehan, Mary refers to the Fenians, a group of nineteenth-century nationalist revolutionaries. They supported the liberation of Ireland from Great Britain and the establishment of an independent Irish Republic. Mary says, “I’m not like Da. And I’m no Fenian. I’ve no plan to go back.” (p. 19) Discuss the tension among Mary, Mike, and their father.

4. In The Dreams of Mairhe Mehan, the author interweaves battle scenes with a barroom dance. What are the connections between the two? Where are they discordant?

5. Discuss the many ways Mary imagines using the lace she makes–both literal and figurative. What makes the lace such a potent symbol for America?

6. At the conclusion of The Dreams of Mairhe Mehan, Mr. Walt (Whitman) quotes one of his poems, called “Starting from Paumanok,” from Leaves of Grass, his autobiographical poem published in 1855. Mr. Walt says: “Listen dear son–listen America, daughter or son, It is a painful thing to love a man or woman to excess, and yet it satisfies, it is great, But there is something else very great, it makes the whole coincide, It, magnificent, beyond materials, with continuous hands sweeps and provides for all.” (p. 131) Discuss what this means to Mary.

7. What is the source of Mary’s awakening in Mary Mehan Awake?

8. How does the war affect Henry and Mary? How do their experiences both separate and connect them to other people?

9. Mary describes her dreams as “the twilight between one world and another.” (p. 3) How does she escape this dream world in Mary Mehan Awake?

10. Describe Mary’s experience when she and Henry visit Niagara Falls in Mary Mehan Awake. Why is she surprised when they reach the Cave of the Winds at the bottom of the falls?

11. The author uses the following quotation from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” as the epigraph for Book III in Mary Mehan Awake: “Is this then a touch? quivering me to a new identity, / Flames and ether making a rush for my veins.” (p. 217) How does this relate to Mary’s friendship with Henry?

12. Why does Mr. Dorsett’s illness frighten Mary?

13. What does Mary learn from Mr. Walt?

14. Why do you think the author chose to use Walt Whitman as a character?

15. Based on your readings of the dreams in these novels, do you think that dreams can influence your waking hours or that your waking hours can influence your dreams? Could both be true?

16. Mary writes a letter to Mr. Walt at the conclusion of Mary Mehan Awake. What is the author suggesting with Mary and Henry’s journey to the West?