English 321 – American Frontier Literature
Grant T. Smith, Ph. D.
Discussion Questions: The
from Mariner Books Houghton Mifflin
Company Reader’s Guide
you enjoy reading this book?
Why? Share with the class a
passage in the book that stayed with you after you finished the book.
Le Guin says that The Jump-Off Creek describes “the West behind the swaggering
and hokum” and other critics claim that the novel dispels all of our
stereotypes of the West and the frontier.
What myths and stereotypes of the West does Gloss challenge?
the literary conventions that we associate with the classic Western
novel. What conventions does Gloss
use in her narrative? What
conventions does she discard?
details of frontier life emerge from Molly Gloss’s portrait of the Blue
Mountain homesteaders in the
1890s? What is the significance of
the name Jump-Off Creek for Lydia
and the earlier pioneer women with whom she feels kinship?
has driven Lydia Sanderson to homestead on her own in the remote, sparsely
populated Blue Mountains of Oregon?
What is the significance of her statement to Blue Odell that “I was
seeking the boundless possibilities that are said to live on the
frontier”? What are some of these
boundless possibilities, and do they change for Lydia?
Chapter Four, we learn that Lydia
“had a habit of going quick in these events, before the misgiving would
set in.” What instances are we
shown of Lydia’s
“going quick” (15, 16) when confronted with difficulty or danger? In what ways does this habit serve her
well, or not?
Chapter Thirteen, Blue sees Lydia
“hiding [a] little flash of satisfaction” (60) when she brings down a calf
for the first time. Why does this
incident fill Lydia
with such satisfaction? What other
activities provide Lydia
with a sense of reward or pleasure?
writes in her journal, “I am used to being Alone, in spirit if not body,
and shall not be Lonely, as I have never been inclined that way” (1). Yet, Evelyn Walker, in Chapter 16,
reflects on her own loneliness and triggers a similar unspoken response on
part. How does Lydia
deal with being alone? How is Lydia’s
journal entry similar to Henry David Thoreau’s attitude toward solitude as
expressed in Walden?
gender issues are raised in this novel?
would you describe the reality of women’s lives on the Northwest
frontier? How does each woman—Lydia,
Evelyn Walker, Doris Oberfield—cope with the
challenges of living as a woman, single or married, on the frontier?
once in a while Lydia
feels “a sudden itchy need for sympathy, or for forgiveness” or for just
some human interaction. In what
ways does she deal with those needs?
- Why do
you think details of Lydia’s
Pennsylvania past and her
reasons for heading west begin to emerge nearly halfway through the novel,
after we have already begun to form an impression of her? What details of Lydia’s
past help explain her determination to go it alone, and change our view of
learn of Lydia,
as she is stitching up Blue’s back:
“She was tender, but pitiless, having never gained pity and so
never learning it.” What are some
of the hardships endured by Lydia
and the others that require both tenderness and an absence of pity?
might be Tim’s motives for suggesting marriage to Lydia
(108), and Lydia’s
for saying no? What other
indications are there that marriage is expected
and other women?
cold nights return in October, Lydia
admits that she “had no instinct yet for the weather in this
country.” How does Lydia
prepare for the onset of winter?
Are her preparations adequate?
- One of
Tim Whiteaker’s infrequent aphorisms is
“Carelessness is something that will get people killed.” What does he mean by this? What instances are there of carelessness
and of caregiving, and what are the consequences
notes that Tim and Blue’s house “looked well established and was soundly
built.” And Gloss adds, “She set a high value on those things.” What are some other examples of what Lydia
values? Are her values “feminine”
story takes place in the early 1890s.
What is the significance of that period of frontier history to the
- In her
first journal entry at Jump-Off Creek, Lydia
writes, “I have not lost Heart, having done so in years past and no false
hopes this time. There are Graces
at all events” (35). What are the
“Graces” to which she refers? What
additional graces does she discover during the subsequent six months?
impact does the wolf bounty have on the motivations and actions of the Blue
trappers, and ranchers? What are
is the “quick, small grief” that Lydia
unexpectedly feels when she learns that Evelyn Walker will go to her
mother’s to have her baby? Why does Lydia
experiences this grief, which she finds inexplicable?
are some of the ways in which the outside world encroaches on the
inhabitants of the Blue Mountains?
does The Jump-Off Creek change
what you thought you knew about the West, men’s and women’s roles on the
frontier, and homesteading at the turn of the century? What was the biggest surprise or
challenge to a preconception you might have had about frontier