The Metaphor Maker Reading Guide

  1. Madeline Prescott is faced with loss on every side.  Besides the loss of her Metaphor Maker 1brother, what other losses does she face?  Share a time in your life when you experienced grief:  How did those around you treat you?  Were they supportive or clueless?  How did your grief change the course of your life?  Your identity?
  1. Mark Kurlansky asserts, in his book, 1968: The Year that Rocked the World, “1968 was one of those rare times in America when poetry seemed to matter.”  How did poetry matter to Madeline?  What does “driftwood” mean to her?  Is it, for Madeline, a satisfactory “metaphor to live by”?  Does poetry matter today? To you?  Who are the poets who speak to your spiritual side?
  2. Why did the Tet Offensive galvanize Madeline’s anger and frustration?  Why was the War in Vietnam such a controversial war?   Do you know anyone who personally served in or protested the war?  Share a time when you felt anger at the way the world was going and how you chose to react.
  3. After the “Birchers” leave the shop, Eve corners Ben for his views on such extremist characters.  Ben refers to a popular book of the time, The True Believer by Eric Hoffer.  Do you agree with Hoffer?  Are extremists really more alike than different?  What’s the difference between strong conviction and extremism?  How does fear play into our psyches?  While “the Bomb” was the big fear of the day for some and “Godless Communism” for others, what are the biggest fears we face today?
  4. What is the “Fat Soul Philosophy” that Alex expresses as he and Madeline wash the dishes?  Why doesn’t Madeline warm to it immediately?  What personal resistance compels her to argue with Alex?  What significance does their talk have on the events of the day?  How have her feelings about Alex changed at this point in the story?   Have you ever had to face down a stereotype like she did?
  5. Madeline mentions early on in this chapter that the hippies, like Simone, added “a splash of color to an otherwise grim world” (p. 224).  We often think of the spiritual life as something utterly and unwaveringly serious.  Is it?  Or is laughter and lightness important—even vital—to the spiritual life?  Share a difficult or confusingpeach teacup time when laughter was the only thing that helped.
  6. In the hospital, the chaplain, Henry Graham, intrigues Madeline with his “unorthodox” views of God and his introduction of “metaphor” into theology.   He says, “We humans have to think in metaphors, don’t we?  Especially with a mystery as huge and exhilarating as God” (p. 264).     What does the metaphor have to do with humility?  Do you agree with Henry that “if there’s anything religion could use these days, it’s a dose of humility”?
  7. What does the concept of “power” have to do with Henry’s unorthodox view of God?  With the “problem of evil and suffering”?  With what is happening in the late Sixties?  Why does he reject the “omnipotence” of God? What is his more “subversive” view?  How does Madeline react to his favorite metaphor for God?  Do you think this is a turning point for Madeline’s quest?
  8. After RFK’s assassination, Madeline suffers from shock and then a myriad of emotions ranging from anger to despair.  Early on in the book—in her aborted attempts to write poetry—she expresses a need to save hope.  “Hope was at stake here.  Hope, for God’s sake.  How could she save hope?” (p. 44)  What about hope now?  Does his death completely erase all her attempts at building a spiritual foundation?  Or does it just seem that way?  Share a time in your life when it seemed there was no hope.  Who helped you fight despair?
  9. The Metaphor Maker is ultimately about Madeline’s quest for “a metaphor to live by.”  How would you describe the results of her search?  What metaphors do you live by?  How did you come to adopt them for yourself?  Why are they personally significant?

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