This House of Sky Discussion Points

  1. Doig has criticized much of the fiction that has arisen from the cowboy myth. In most of these formulaic stories, the hero is strong and predictably invincible against the enemy, be they forces of nature or forces of evil. How does Charlie Doig defy our stereotypical notions about the Western hero? How do his struggles raise him above the standard masculinity of the common Western man?
  2. Describe how Doig's realistic sense of place broadens when he describes town life in Montana and the characters he and his father encountered at the Stockman Bar. Why are these trips to the Stockman so important to Charlie?
  3. Charlie once tells Ivan, "Scotchmen and coyotes was the only ones that could live in the Basin, and pretty damn soon the coyotes starved out." Do these words explain why Charlie is able to survive his tenuous existence? How does he cope with the death of his first wife and the divorce of his second?
  4. The discord between Charlie and Ruth brings for Ivan a mix of "apprehension and interestedness." Contrast Ruth with Berneta, and explore why Ivan might view his second mother in the way that he does.
  5. Why does Doig call the reunion of Charlie and Bessie Ringer a "truce" and their relationship an "alliance"? Trace the development of Charlie and Bessie's relationship from the time of Charlie's divorce up until Charlie's death. How does it change? How does it stay the same?
  6. Discuss the scene in which Ivan tells his father he is going to leave Montana for good. What makes it so poignant? Does Charlie understand his son's ambitions, or does he merely accept them? Does Ivan's decision to leave simply reinforce the idea of "absence across distance" for Charlie, an absence he has reluctantly grown accustomed to?
  7. Bessie Ringer emerges from a generation of women still reeling under the influence of what feminist critics call "The Cult of True Womanhood," whose values (purity, piety, submissiveness, and domesticity) were often misunderstood and thus misapplied. Does Bessie, in some sense, break free from the rigid expectations for women of her time? Describe her personality and compare it to some of our classical notions of women on the plains.
  8. In "North," Charlie, Bessie, and Ivan fight to save their sheep from an attack of ticks and a subsequent storm, which sends the herd bawling toward a steep precipice. Discuss the artistic elements of this scene.
  9. Study Bessie's language patterns. Find instances of the humorous, often proverbial words that add spice to the memoir, making her come alive as a character. Is she, in some simple way, a mentor to Ivan with regards to the "mystery and meaning in the world around him?" Contrast Ivan's book learning with her more practical wisdom.
  10. The vaulted symmetry in the mountain peaks, the "walls of high country," and the windswept floor where shadows accent deep valleys, all these provide the dimensions in the "house of sky" which would become part of Doig's heart and soul. How does the landscape shape Doig's recollective voice?.

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