Hestia's House
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Study Guide

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These Study Guide questions are grouped to match the book's sections.
Questions are below the links.

General

1. Where is Hestia’s House?

2. Identify and discuss the symbols of transformation throughout the book.

3. Discuss the overarching theme of “home” which permeates the book, from the Dedication page to the last word of the book.

4. Name all the vehicles and other modes of transportation throughout the book.

5. How is life like a journey? What are some other literary, historical or contemporary journey stories that you know?

6. Sometimes we let ourselves “go whichever way the wind blows” and sometimes we get blown off our deliberately set course. But a life journey is not always to a place. It can be to an ideal, to a state of awareness, or to a spiritual, psychological or physical state of being. What is the journey of your life?

7. Both in a general sense and as pertinent to his life, what is the author saying with the patriotic themes and images?

8. How is running a metaphor of life?

 

Part One / Time Travel in the New Millennium

1. What is the connection between Orson Welles, the Todd School for Boys and the Woodstock Children’s Home?

2. Name at least 3 “claims to fame” that Woodstock, Illinois can boast.

 

Part Two / The Woodstock Children’s Home

1. Describe the tone of Chapter 2. Discuss the “two on the swing” segment at the end of this chapter. How can this segment be both innocent and erotic at the same time?

2. Discuss the fun and play activities of children growing up in the Chicago area, in the fifties and sixties. How are these activities different from, or similar to, activities of kids growing up in the South or other regions?

3. Think of at least one play or fun activity from your childhood: Hold it gently in your hands and stare at it. Turn it slowly over and over again, savoring every facet of your childhood memory. Bring the memory up to your face and smell it----hear it. How did you feel as a child, at this play or fun activity? Then do something to frame that memory, such as writing a story, an essay, a poem; or drawing a picture, or composing music. Your children will one day very much appreciate your “framed” memory.

4. Why was learning to drive a car and getting a drivers’ license, on the first attempt at age sixteen, so important to the author? What is the symbolic significance of driving?

5. Discuss the tragic story in Chapter 4, of Bud losing his arm. Why did Bud channel his anger into self-destructive behaviors? Was there anything or anyone who could have saved Bud? Did the Children’s Home, or anyone, assume appropriate accountability? Why or why not? Would this tragic scenario play out differently in today’s society?

6. Discuss the compulsive “virginity tests” imposed on the teenaged girls. How might this experience have affected the girls? Would this form of punishment be acceptable in today’s society?

7. Discuss the Home kids “tagging” for money in downtown Chicago. Would this be appropriate in today’s society?

8. Discuss the examples of rules from the Rule Book. Do the rules seem fair, or overly oppressive? Could kids of today, even kids in a Children’s Home, be able to “make it” financially and socially, living under these rules?

9. How and why was the author allowed to own a car at age sixteen?

10. Compare and contrast the house parents: the Gearhearts, the Beattys, Mr. Leeds, and the Rev. Redding, and Ms. Dorothy (from Chapter 18).

11. Describe and discuss how the author inserts his life into the concurrent stream of historical events. How did the historical events of the fifties and sixties affect him?

12. Do children have any rights? Is today’s understanding of children’s rights different than that of years ago?

13. How accountable and responsible should society hold parents, for the care and proper rearing of their children?

 

Part Three / Parents

1. What is the author’s purpose in detailing his mother’s ancestors as “first families” in the Philo, Ohio area, and also that his mother’s paternal uncles fought in the Civil War?

2. Does anything about (the author’s mother) Joy’s childhood seem as though it could have negatively affected her adult development? Or is her personality and behavior a result of her genes?

3. Discuss “Poem Within a Poem”: Compare the inner poem “Commitment,” which was written by the author at age fourteen after finding his mother in a mental institution, with the outer poem—which is his present day recollection of that incident and commentary of his poem “Commitment.”

4. How might the experience of a fourteen year old Home kid finding his mother in a mental institution affect him or her?

5. How did the death of (the author’s father) Paul’s mother Esther while giving birth to him, and his subsequent, related epilepsy, affect Paul’s life?

6. How did Paul regard his father, Forest?

 

Part Four / Early Childhood in Chicago

1. Why couldn’t Paul and Joy make it in Chicago? Can you specify any circumstances or attitudes, etc., which put them at risk for failure? Or was it all just fate?

2. If Joy had lived at or near home in Ohio when her father died, would she have also had a “nervous breakdown?” Why did Joy’s father’s death affect her so traumatically?

3. Compare and contrast the author’s early childhood with his parents in Chicago, with that of his experience of living through high school graduation in the Children’s Home. Do you think it was better to have lived in the Home, or with his parents, or in a foster home, or with relatives?

4. How and why did the author survive his childhood? Are there any universal characteristics of a child or adult survivor?

5. How do children learn to read the thunder? How do children cope with the thunder they “know?” How do children adapt, in order to live with the thunder?

6. Name at least two pleasant memories from his early childhood, of occasions shared with his family, which the author describes.

7. How does the author reveal his father as more fully dimensional? What incidents or facts in Part Four, and on page 21, indicate more positive characteristics of Paul?

 

Part Five / Ground School

1. Why didn’t the Children’s Home, or the Agency which placed him there help the author to get a college education?

2. What was the cause of the author’s agoraphobia? How and why did the crippling agoraphobia finally leave him?

3. Discuss the “facing down the demon in the car” segment, in Chapter 12. Is that an example of a good way to confront fears and phobias? Could that type of direct confrontation of fears be too psychologically risky for some?

 

Part Six / Move to North Carolina and Gender Odyssey

1. The epigraph of Chapter 13 is Dante’s quote: “In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself in a dark wood where the straight way was lost.” Write a poem, story or essay about such a time in your life. How did you forge a path?

2. Discuss the author’s poem “Song of the Prisoner of Chillon”. (This poem was influenced by Lord Byron’s lengthy poem, “The Prisoner of Chillon”) What does the narrator’s “voice” in the author’s poem symbolize? Discuss the ambivalence of depression.

3. Discuss the story in Chapter 14 of Caeneus, the Greek warrior from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, who was born female and so named Caenis. Why is this story ostensibly significant to the author?

4. What are some other mythical stories of contra-sex transformation?

5. Are there any animals which change sex? Is there some biological, adaptive or environmental cause or reason for them to do that? Or do they change sex because they are tired of their own sex and just want to try the other?

6. Discuss the author’s poem, “Freedom Flight.” In the poem, the author is looking at an old photo of himself in his previous female persona. The words in italics are used to show his thoughts. Does it seem the author is paying tribute to his anima, and to women in general?

7. All men come from women. Do you agree with this? In what ways do men come from women?

8. How do you interpret Jesus’ rebuke of Simon Peter (on page 168): “I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.”

9. Compare and contrast the tone of Chapter 17, with that of Chapter 2.

10. After he was thrown out of his apartment into the street, as a result of the Ex Parte eviction, the author states in Chapter 17, “that there was never a time in my life when I was closer to losing it.” Why was this event so psychologically significant to the author? Why would he feel this way when there had been many other, more horrendous abuses that he had already endured as a child and young adult?

11. The author confesses that he has no sure explanation for why he “picked himself up and continued to move himself along.” Why do you think he did?

12. Do you agree with this statement? “I absolutely understand why some people choose to drop out of society. Everyone has their limit.”

13. Do you agree with this? “No one is really altruistic; one always has an ulterior motive to altruism, even Mother Theresa.”

14. Have you ever been in a situation where you were angry, disillusioned, cynical, depressed, without hope and yet you “carried on?” Can you explain why you carried on?

15. Discuss the poem, “Eye of the Shaman.” What is a shaman? What is the shaman “seeing?” What motivates the narrator in the poem to shoot? How do William Stafford’s poem “Traveling through the Dark,” and Winslow Homer’s painting “The Fox Hunt” inform the author’s poem “Eye of the Shaman?”

 

Part Seven / Return to Time Travel

1. What does the recollection of the old dinner bell at the Children’s Home symbolize?

2. What do you think was the purpose of the foot-square, framed cut-out hole in the wall, in the office in the Children’s Home’s old Harrison House building?

3. What is death being personified as, in the poem on page 233, “What the Shaman Knows?” Why would a shaman have both a masculine and a feminine perspective?

4. Discuss the author’s use of the literary device “stream of consciousness” beginning on page 235 of Chapter 19. Compare to James Joyce’s use of the same, in the last chapter of his book Ulysses.

5. How does the repeated use of the word “yes” contribute to the “Otherworld” segment in Chapter 19?

6. Discuss the significance of the “Otherworld” journey in Chapter 19, and (the underworld journey) in other odyssey stories, such as Dante’s Inferno, Homer’s Odyssey and James Joyce’s Ulysses.

7. Why did the author need to make a trip to the “Otherworld?” How did this trip advance his psycho-spiritual growth?

8. What is the significance of the author’s grandfather Forest, to his own life? What is the author’s attitude toward his grandfather Forest?

9. On page 241, the author quotes Athene in Homer’s Odyssey: “No one really knows his father.” What does that mean?

10. What does this phrase mean? In nomine Patris et Fillii et Spiritus Sancti. Why does the author say this at the end of the “Otherworld” segment?

 

Part Eight / A Wounded Healer

1. What is a “wounded healer?”

2. In the poem, “Myth of Me” what is the significance of the lady in the lake giving the sword to the narrator? Who is the “old man” and what does he represent? Who is Calliope? Who is Melchizedek, and how does the narrator identify with him?

3. The last line of the poem says, “…and I still have the sword.” What is the sword?

4. Do you agree that the grey-white pigeons atop the nine-floor, steel and concrete Duke Hospital building must surely be the spirit-doves of the souls of patients who had died in the hospital?

5. The words of the poem, “Intensive Care Unit” are in italics to show thoughts. Whose thoughts are these?

6. The epigraph for Chapter 21 is from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem "Ulysses." What does Tennyson mean by: “…all experience is an arch…?”

7. Do you know of anyone who “has never owned a home, nor did his parents ever own a home?” Have you ever known anyone who longed for a sense of home? What must that feel like?

8. On page 260, what stories do the names of the pets in Hestia’s House: Toto, Zeus, Argos and Calypso come from? What is the name of one other pet in Hestia’s House?

9. Do you agree with the author that the quote on page 261 (from Emma Lazarus’s poem "The New Colossus"), which begins “…give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,…” “capture(s) the essence of the American spirit”?

10. Do you agree with the author’s last sentence of the book, “And so I am America’s child. America is my home.”?

 US FlagLiberty

Copyright © 2003 by Blaine Paxton Hall. All rights reserved.

 


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'Hestia's House' is a publication of
Hazelhurst House
Fearrington Village NC