Mar­jorie Morningstar

November 8, 2012
Mar­jorie Morn­ingstar is a love sto­ry. It presents one of the great­est char­ac­ters in mod­ern fic­tion: Mar­jorie, the pret­ty sev­en­teen-year-old who left the respectabil­i­ty of New York’s Cen­tral Park West to join the the­ater, live in the teem­ing streets of Green­wich Vil­lage, and seek love in the arms of a bril­liant, enig­mat­ic writer. In this mem­o­rable nov­el, Her­man Wouk, win­ner of the Pulitzer Prize, has cre­at­ed a sto­ry as uni­ver­sal, as sen­si­tive, and as unmis­tak­ably authen­tic as any ever told. 

Discussion Questions

  • On a paper­back edi­tion of Mar­jorie Morn­ingstar, a blurb giv­en by Sid­ney Field of Sun­day Mir­ror reads, Its locale is Cen­tral Park West, Hunter Col­lege, and West End Avenue; its char­ac­ters are almost all Jew­ish; its appeal uni­ver­sal.” Do you agree with this state­ment? Why or why not? Do you think this could be con­sid­ered The Great Amer­i­can Novel”?

  • Mar­jorie Morn­ingstar was writ­ten in the 1950s and set in the 1930s. Is the nov­el now out of date or does it remain rel­e­vant as more than a work of his­tor­i­cal fic­tion? What would change if it were to be set in the cur­rent year; what would stay the same?

  • What is Wouk say­ing about being a Shirley? Is it a respectable, con­tent­ed life to which all women should aspire or is it the epit­o­me of dull­ness, deserv­ing of all the con­de­scen­sion that Noel (and Mar­jorie) heap upon it? Do you think there is truth to the stereo­type? Is Mar­jorie real­ly a Shirley?

  • Lit­er­ary crit­ics have ques­tioned why this book con­tin­ues to be so pop­u­lar among mod­ern, lib­er­al women, despite its con­ser­v­a­tive bent (e.g., this arti­cle). Why do you think read­ers, who may or may not agree with the moral and social judge­ments espoused, con­tin­ue to iden­ti­fy so strong­ly with this book? What do you think Wouk’s mes­sage is? Do you think of Mar­jorie as a fem­i­nist? Do you see this nov­el as for or against inde­pen­dent, think­ing women? If there are opin­ions with which you dis­agree, did that affect your read­ing of the novel?

  • Despite his death less than halfway through the nov­el, the Uncle’s pres­ence con­tin­ues to be felt through most of the sto­ry. What is the role of Sam­son-Aaron in Marjorie’s life? What is his role in the novel?

  • How would you char­ac­ter­ize Marjorie’s rela­tion­ship with Judaism? What is it that she strug­gles with and what does she accept? What do Marjorie’s rit­u­al obser­vances represent?

  • Why do you think there is a full chap­ter devot­ed to the Mor­gen­sterns’ Passover seder? Do you see this as a turn­ing point in the nov­el? Why do you think Wouk specif­i­cal­ly chose the set­ting of a seder?

  • How does Marjorie’s short rela­tion­ship with Mike Eden affect her? Does it shift the way you, as the read­er, see her?

  • When Mar­jorie finds Noel in Paris, he tells her You have changed, Margie. Quite rad­i­cal­ly.”, to which she replies, Well, maybe. I don’t think so. I’m just get­ting on, Noel.” (page 533). This con­ver­sa­tion mir­rors that one that Mar­jorie had years before at South Wind with her father (page 195). Do you think Mar­jorie changes over the course of the nov­el, or has she just matured?

  • Why do you think Mar­jorie turns down Noel’s proposal?

  • Why do you think Wouk chose to end the nov­el view­ing Mar­jorie through Wally’s eyes, rather than in the first per­son nar­ra­tive that char­ac­ter­izes the rest of the book? Do you rec­og­nize Mar­jorie in Mrs. Schwartz? Does the fact that Marjorie’s fate is pre­dict­ed — repeat­ed­ly — through­out the nov­el pre­pare you for the out­come? Do you think the end­ing is an abrupt depar­ture from the course of the nar­ra­tive or do you think it reflects a nat­ur­al jour­ney of grow­ing older?

  • Is this your first time read­ing this nov­el, or have you read it pre­vi­ous­ly? If you have read it before, how did this read­ing com­pare to ear­li­er ones? Has your per­spec­tive or the char­ac­ters with whom you iden­ti­fy shift­ed? If this is your first time read­ing the book, do you feel that you would have enjoyed it more or less if you read it at a younger stage of life?