Heart Earth Discussion Points

  1. In Heart Earth, Doig credits the "poetics" of the life of Berneta as being responsible for his own power of artistic recollection. He writes, "What I know of her is heard in the slow poetry of fact." What does he mean by this paradoxical assertion? How does Doig, as an artist, add to his mother's own poetic existence?
  2. Is Doig's limited knowledge of his mother a detriment to the quality of prose with which he describes her?
  3. Is Doig, in some sense, a historian, rescuing from forgetfulness the life of a great woman? Explain why Doig might be criticized for elegizing Berneta, and decide whether or not the criticism is unfounded.
  4. The myth promulgated by many Western filmmakers and critics is that women are "physically more passive than men and can embody the values of civilization while standing in the doorway of [their] homestead." Is Berneta a woman of action, or does she adhere to what was commonly expected of women at her time?
  5. How does Doig's description of photos of his mother contribute to the authenticity of the memoir? How does Doig capture the spiritual significance of his mother?
  6. Berneta has the almost superhuman ability to "embrace a howling wilderness as her beloved home." Does she ever fall prey to the loneliness and desolation that come of frontier life?
  7. Why does Doig title the memoir "Heart Earth"? Is the land simply a backdrop for Berneta's microcosmic society, or is it also a metaphor for her own heart?
  8. By example, Berneta encourages Ivan in the most important endeavor of his life: learning. What sacrifices does she make so that Ivan can grow in intellectual pursuits? Does she supplement his book learning with practical wisdom?
  9. Country life for the Doigs means long days and nights of tending sheep, and shepherding is not easy. Why is Berneta so willing to confront the toils of country living amidst her attacks of asthma? Do you see her return to Montana as a problematic disregard for her own health?
  10. Thematic to the memoir is that complex ironies characterize our fragile existence. The one that would mark Berneta's existence is that the good too often die young. Do you think it is this that inspires Doig to preserve her memory and continue the legacy that was her life?

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