Reading Questions for The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
After you've finished reading...
8. How would Edgar's story have been different if he had been born with a voice? How would Edgar himself have been different? Since Edgar can communicate perfectly well in sign language most of the time, why should having a voice make any difference at all?
9. Some readers forget entirely about the poison that makes its appearance in the prologue; others never lose track of it. Which kind of reader were you? What is the nature of the poison? When the man and the old herbalist argue in the prologue, who did you think was right?
10. Two of the final chapters are told from Claude's point of view. Do they help explain his character or motivation?
11. At one point in this story, Trudy tells Edgar that what makes the Sawtelle dogs valuable is something that cannot be put into words, at least by her. By the end of the book, Edgar feels he understands what she meant, though he is equally at a loss to name this quality. What do you think Trudy meant?
12. In the final moments of the novel, Essay must make a choice. What do you think she decides, and why? Do you think all the dogs will abide by her decision?
13. Mark Doty has called The Story of Edgar Sawtelle "an American Hamlet." Certainly, there are moments that evoke that older drama, but many other significant story elements do not. Edgar's encounter with Ida Paine is one example out of many. Are other Shakespearean plays evoked in this story? Consider Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Othello and The Tempest. In what sense is The Story of Edgar Sawtelle like all Elizabethan stage drama? Is it important to know (or not know) that the story is, at some level, a retelling of an older tale? Do you think Elizabethan audiences were aware that Hamlet was itself a retelling of an older story?