1. The notion of life or religion or any deliberate action as a sort of gamble or dice throw attracts me. Oscar explains this theory to Lucinda, "Our whole faith is a wager, Miss Leplastrier. We bet — it is all in Pascal and very wise it is too, although the Queen of England might find him not nearly Presbyterian enough — we bet that there is a God. We bet our life on it. We calculate the odds, the return, that we shall sit with the saints in paradise. Our anxiety about our bet will wake us before dawn in a cold sweat." He continues, "I cannot see, "he said, "that such a God, whose fundamental requirement of us is that we gamble our mortal souls, every second of our temporal existence. . . It is true! We must gamble every instant of our allotted span. We must stake everything on the unprovable fact of His existance." (218) Is Oscar correct in his analogy? Do the final pages of the book prove the intense sincerity of his faith? How do Oscar and Lucinda view God and religion differently? [Kate Cook]

2. What relations between naming and history does Carey imply in Oscar and Lucinda ? [Erica Dillon]

3. Lucinda says the following to Oscar:

"Do you know what I envy you?" she said. "It is that you are not constrained."

She meant: The way you walk, walk in here, your clothes like that, and do not give a hoot what opinion the waiters or the diners may have of you. (321)

Throughout the novel, both Lucinda and Oscar feel constrained and trapped by religion and society. What are the different constraints each experiences? How does each respond to these constraints? Does Lucinda's statement give an accurate picture of their respective positions in the Victorian era? [Lucia Duncan]

4. "The man inside the church waved his hands, gestures which appeared, from the perspective of Marx Hill, to be mysterious, even magical, but which, inside the crystal furnace of the church, had the simple function of repelling the large and frightening insects which had become imprisoned there." [418] As in this example, Peter Carey takes care throughout Oscar and Lucinda to paint many different interpretations of actions and interactions through the eyes of his characters and narrators. What effect do these multiple interpretations have on the understanding of the reader? [Jeremy Finer]

5. We see Oscar counting his walking steps in several passages from his early childhood. How can we read these quantifications of his? What possible meaning do they have? [Katie Finin]

6.

The church has been conceived in a fever. It was not a celebration of sacred love, but of their own. Likewise this wager — she saw now, with her head pressed hard against the window pane, with her eyes tight shut, that she had only made this bet so that she might finally do what she had never managed to do upon a gaming table, that is to slough off the great guilty weight of her inheritance, drop it like a rusty armour she did not need, that she be light as a feather, as uncorrupted as an empty purse, unencumbered, naked, with her face pressed into the soft and secret place at the bottom of his graceful neck.

How is Lucinda's inheritance a burden for her? Does her financial independence give her any freedoms? How does this related to her being a woman in the mid-1800s? [Laura Gelfman]

7. What are some of the roles of Christian religion in this novel? Does the fanaticism of Theophilus give organized religion or simply an overzealous individual a bad rep? How does this contrast work in synchrony with Oscar's religiousness? Where, if anywhere, are the other forms of spirituality in Oscar and Lucinda? Finally, what role does nature play here in relation with religion (examples: Theophilus as a naturalist, mentions of Darwinism on p. 230, lust portrayed as a beetle and worm on p. 362) [Laura Otis]

8. Take the following passage and explore the theme of power in Oscar & Lucinda as it relates to feminism, religion, money, and interpersonal and interracial relationships.

"'By the way they looked at me, by their perception of me, they would make me into the creature they perceived. I would feel myself becoming a lesser thing. It is the power of men....of men, men in a group, men in their certainty, men on a street corner, or in a hall. It is like a voodoo.'" [chapter 34, page 120]

How do characters acquire power (defined here as the ability to control both one's own life and those of others) or have it conferred upon them and how do they use it? How does Lucinda's life in particular illustrate the effects of powerfulness and powerlessness? (think of her inheritance, feminism, factory...) [Elissa Popoff]

9. Beginning with the following passage, discuss glass' role as a leitmotif in Oscar & Lucinda [Elissa Popoff]:

"Glass is a thing in disguise, an actor, is not solid at all, but a liquid, that an old sheet of glass will not only take on a royal and purplish tinge but will reveal its true liquid nature by having grown fatter at the bottom and thinner at the top, and that even while it is as frail as the ice on a Parramatta puddle, it is stronger under compression than Sydney sandstone, that it is invisible, solid, in short, a joyous and paradoxical thing, as good a material as any to build a life from." [chapter 32, page 111]

The narrator claims to be related to Oscar. Does this claim bestow credibility and/or explain the narrator's intimate knowledge of the characters? What is the relationship of the narrator to the story?

Many characters — including Theophilus Hopkins, Lucinda, Oscar, Hugh Stratton — are often only able to see the world in one particular way. This blindness to other views or interpretations has important repercussions for the story. How does this theme of blinders and enclosure relate to postcolonialism and postimperialism? [Elissa Popoff]

10. Discuss how many methods the characters in the novel use to seek knowledge, truth, and order. [Elora Lee-Raymond]

11. How does Carey's depiction of the properties of glass [p. 111] relate to Swift's descriptions of the properties of water? Water and glass seem to share some important similarities. In both novels they oversignify; they have multiple meanings, levels and intensities, to the extent that they become mystical. Both have strong connections to childhood, or to the childhood of a main character. What is the role of such a concept in the novel? Why would both authors need, or choose to create, such a device or concept? [Elora Lee-Raymond]

12.

There were bush-flies inside the church. They did not understand what glass was. There were also three blue-bellied dragon-flies. For one hundred thousand years their progenitors had inhabited that valley without once encountering glass. Suddenly the air was hard where it should be soft. Likewise the tawny hard-shelled water beetle and the hand legged wasp. They flew against the glass in panic. They had the wrong intelligence to grasp the nature of glass. (418)

In this passage from Oscar & Lucinda, Peter Carey skillfully describes the effect of the glass church on the smallest of nature's creatures. Discuss the double nature of glass in Carey's novel. What is the relationship between the glass church and the nature of love between Oscar and Lucinda? How does the construction of the glass church affect the natural world and the spiritual nature of the Australian Outback? [Barnali Tahbildar]

13. How was the Hopkins's relationship, as it was revealed in the chapter "After Pudding," similar to that of Sarla and Deven's in In Custody? Is it valid to compare the use of religious beliefs in both novels as a means to perpetuate oppression? [Uzoma Ukomadu]

14. Oscar and Lucinda is a big book, and big books seem to posess a real force, both attractive and repulsive. Although I hesitate to postulate any absolute power of size or weightiness of weight, I do imagine a politics of length, involving both the historical roles of big books and the leisure cultures in which big books are most likely to be written and read. How does Oscar and Lucinda negotiate this politics of length? I am wondering especially about the significance of the size of the text as a whole in contrast to its short and simple sentences and three- to four-page chapters. [Sage Wilson]


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Last modified 1 March 2004

Last modified 1997