The Stone Diaries
From her calamitous 1905 birth in Manitoba to her journey with her father to Indiana, throughout her years as a wife, mother, and widow, Daisy Stone Goodwill struggles to understand her place in her own life. Now, in old age, Daisy attempts to tell her life story within a novel that is itself about the limitations of autobiography.
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Each chapter in this book is titled with a major life event of the main character's life (Birth, Marriage, Work, Death). Daisy's life follows the trajectory of the 20th century and tells the story of an ordinary woman trying to find her life's purpose. The book is a fictional biography written in many different forms and voices.
The novel opens with the narrator's mother, Mercy, in the kitchen, and characterizes Mercy's husband as a working man. What does the Malvern pudding Mercy is making symbolize?
This sentence tells us the point of view of this chapter. This is actually the only chapter in the book that is told from this point of view. What is the point of view being used here?
Stones (also stone quarries and limestone) will be a symbolic metaphor and motif throughout the book, as evidenced by the novel's title. Be on the lookout for mentions of stone and consider its implications within the context of the story. This image shows workers at the Manitoba Stonewall Quarry, circa 1900. (This annotation contains an image)
The book's settings include Manitoba and Winnipeg, Canada, Bloomington, Indiana, and a nursing home in Florida. The author, Carol Shields, is Canadian American and currently lives in Manitoba. (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following is Mercy Goodwill's most distinguishable characteristic?
Daisy is narrating the story of her own birth. Her mother, Mercy, does not know she is pregnant. While this is rare, it happens. Mercy is obese, has an irregular menstrual cycle, and does not have a mother to talk to her about the female body.
Flowers and gardens are also symbolic motifs throughout the book. A little red flag should go off in your head whenever you come across stones and flowers. (This annotation contains an image)
These two paragraphs begin to develop which of the following themes?
The point of view of this chapter is unique and interesting. It is as if Daisy is telling the story of her own birth from some time in the distant future. Who can tell the story of their own birth in such detail?
Which of the following literary devices is used in this sentence?
Compare and contrast the marriages of the Goodwills and the Fletts. Cite evidence in the text to support your ideas.
Romance novels are Clarentine's means of escape from her dull marriage. And they symbolize her longing for passionate love.
What is the tone in the section describing the Jewish man? Why do you think the author is using such heavily connotative words?
Antisemitism is prejudice of or discrimination against Jewish people. Between 1900 and 1924, approximately two million Jews migrated to North America, the bulk from Eastern Europe. This increase contributed to antisemitism.
This paragraph includes which type of allusion?
Quarrying is a form of mining involving the extraction of of useful natural stone from a man-made open pit called a quarry by cutting, digging, or blasting. (This annotation contains an image)
Paraphrase Daisy's thoughts on how humanity treats time.
This sentence helps us understand how this book will read. The style of narrative mirrors memory; it is not linear, not chronological.
Which of the following literary devices is being used when describing Culyer's thoughts?
Watch this video to review different forms of irony and then answer the next question. (This annotation contains a video)
Eclampsia is an acute and life-threatening complication of pregnancy characterized by the appearance of tonic–clonic seizures (convulsions). This, probably along with the shock of birth not even knowing she was pregnant, is the cause of Mercy's death.
The kitchen is the scene of both birth and death.
Which of the following literary techniques is employed in this sentence?
Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Since it's so easy to look up words, make sure you use this feature frequently... Is there a word on this page you need to look up?
Barker's fascination with the western lady-slipper flower is an example of which of the following?
We can see here that the point of view has changed from the first chapter. The "I" that is narrating is no longer baby Daisy. So who is the narrator now?
Here we have the beginning of a detour from the standard narrative writing - a series of letters. These letters will alternate between Clarentine Flett writing to Cuyler Goodwill about his daughter, and Barker Flett to his father, Magnus Flett, mostly asking for money to support his mother, and the last letter is written by Barker to Culyer concerning Daisy. Why do you think that author decided to structure the novel in this way?
How does Clarentine Flett die?
What does the stone tower symbolize?
Answer: A husband whose wife does not know she is pregnant. (Of course, Cuyler doesn't know that Mercy did not know she was with child.)
This excerpt explains how stones are symbolic for Cuyler Goodwill. (This annotation contains an image)
How do Cuyler Goodwill and Barker Flett experience (for lack of a better term) spiritual enlightenment?
How is the narrative structured?
Carol Shields is a master of detail. In this excerpt, the use of detail evokes and time and place. Details can have many effects on a text, such as helping to define a character.
Based on the description of Cuyler's extravagant clothing and recent business success, which of the following literary characters does he most resemble? (It's even the same time period!)
Daisy and her father left for Bloomington in 1916 (the end of chapter 2), and Daisy gets married in 1927 (the beginning of chapter 3). A big chunk of her life story is missing. Why do you think the author chose to leave this part of her life out?
On the train ride, Cuyler can be best be described as which of the following?
What effect does the use of hyperbole have in this paragraph?
This sentence uses a syntactical device called asyndeton, which is when you omit conjunctions in a sentence. Notice that this sentence does not include an "and" before the last item. The use of asyndeton changes the rhythm of rhetoric, either slowing it way down to create solemn drama or speeding it up to create a sense of urgency. (This annotation contains an image)
The use of imagery here helps to create a ________________ atmosphere?
How would you describe Daisy's future mother-in-law's advice? Do not summarize the advice. How does it characterize Mrs. Hoad?
Charles Lindbergh (1902-1974) was an American aviator, author, inventor, explorer, and social activist. As a 25-year-old U.S. Air Mail pilot, Lindbergh emerged suddenly from virtual obscurity to instantaneous world fame as the result of his solo non-stop flight on May 20–21, 1927, made from New York's Long Island to Paris, France. As a result of this flight, Lindbergh was the first person in history to be in New York one day and Paris the next. (This annotation contains an image)
Harold is lopping off flower heads with his cane which bothers Daisy, his future wife. Think of the possible symbolic interpretations this could have.
Why do you think Daisy leaves out these details?
Which archetypal figure is Maria?
Watch this video on archetypes, read this paragraph, then answer the next question. (This annotation contains a video)
Daisy lacks a sense of self and is attempting to find her life's purpose throughout the novel, especially here with her trip to Canada.
If the book's protagonist is Daisy, who is the antagonist?
On his voyage over the waters of the Atlantic, Magnus experiences a literal and metaphorical emptying, or cleansing.
How is England characterized in the poem and how does this compare to Magnus' view of England?
Use this link to read the poem "Happy is England" by Romantic poet John Keats, then answer the next question. (This annotation contains a link)
Unlike Harold Hoad's flower beheading, Barker has always been fascinated by flowers. Surely not a coincidence then that he also has a fascination with Daisy, who is named after a flower. (This annotation contains an image)
This section discusses repression of feelings, one of the themes of the book. Which of the following characters repress their feelings?
This statement should cause the reader to consider if Daisy is a reliable narrator. Or if any of the narrators are, for that matter... What we learn from Daisy comes from her own memories and from others' memories of and experiences with her. Figuring out Daisy is like putting a puzzle together.
The names that Daisy compares herself to are all of actress in her time period. Daisy seems to model herself after certain attributes of these actresses. Perhaps this is because she never had her birth mother in her life to teach her how to be a woman. (This annotation contains an image)
How is Daisy possibly at fault for the death of her first husband?
Hades is a Greek mythological allusion. He was the of the god of the underworld. Eventually, the god's name came to designate the land of the dead also. (This annotation contains an image)
How does the opening of this chapter illustrate the theme of gender differences and expectations?
Which of the following techniques does this sentence use to create sound imagery?
Think about your favorite childhood memory. Which details stick out the most to you when you relive it in your head? Is it similar to any of the Flett children's memories?
The Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS; popularly and officially known as the Wrens) was the women's branch of the Royal Navy. First formed in 1917 for WWI, then revived in 1939 for WWII, Wrens included cooks, clerks, wireless telegraphists, radar plotters, weapons analysts, range assessors, electricians and air mechanics. (This annotation contains an image)
What is the tone of Fan Flett's letter?
Some critics say that Fraidy's character could represent jealousy, pity, or possibly the voice of the future post-feminist woman. Of the three, which do you think she represents? Explain your choice using evidence from the text.
Remember that syntax technique called asyndeton? This sentence is an example. Think about the effect that is created by leaving out the last "and" that should be in the sentence.
After reading this paragraph, which element can be considered symbolic?
In what ways can Chapter Five of The Stone Diaries be considered feminist or not?
Read this definition for feminist literature, then answer the next question. Feminist literature supports the feminist goals of defining, establishing and defending equal rights for women. It often identifies women's roles as unequal to those of men – particularly as regards status, privilege and power – and generally portrays the consequences to women, men, families, communities and societies as undesirable. Use the link if you would like more information on feminist literature. (This annotation contains a link)
Pay attention to the dates of the letters because they are not all in chronological order.
What is the tone of Fraidy's letter?
This is a euphemism for saying she is pregnant. A euphemism is a mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing. For example, "He has moved on to a better place" is a euphemism for "He's dead."
From her editor's and readers' letters, what can we infer about Daisy's advice column?
The Morton Arboretum is an internationally recognized nonprofit organization dedicated to the planting and conservation of trees. This is a picture of their Reading Garden. (This annotation contains an image)
Compare the feminist view of Atwood's poem "Siren Song" with Fraidy's character, especially this particular letter from Fraidy.
Use this link to read Margaret Atwood's poem "Siren Song," then answer the next question. (This annotation contains a link)
Throughout the chapter, J.'s letters are getting more ______.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th President, was assassinated on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas. Kennedy was fatally shot by a sniper while traveling with his wife in a presidential motorcade. A ten-month investigation concluded that Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone. This picture was taken just minutes before he was killed. (This annotation contains an image)
What is the best answer to Alice's question?
Can you relate to Alice's description of herself as a teenager?
Which of the following literary devices does this sentence employ?
The Feminine Mystique is a 1963 book by Betty Friedan which is widely credited with sparking the beginning of second-wave feminism in the United States. In 1957, Friedan was asked to conduct a survey of her former college classmates for their 15th reunion; the results, in which she found that many of them were unhappy with their lives as housewives, prompted her to begin research for The Feminine Mystique. (This annotation contains an image)
How does Alice think Daisy found meaning and purpose in her life?
Everyone has a theory on what causes Daisy's depression. We hear reasons from other characters, and briefly from Daisy herself. This is how we learn about Daisy throughout most of the book-- through others' eyes. Do we ever get to know the real Daisy then?
Who is Jay Dudley?
Cora-Mae's theory for the cause of Daisy's depression illustrates which of the following themes?
Repeating the word "loneliness" so many times in such close proximity places emphasis on the idea of loneliness.
Summarize Abram's theory for Daisy's depression.
Who is the "I" narrating here?
Which literary technique is used in the highlighted excerpt?
The season of spring in literature is typically symbolic for new life, beginnings, and renewal, as Cuyler notes here. It is also ironic, however, because we know that he is about to die. (This annotation contains an image)
Summarize Cuyler's last thoughts as he lay dying.
Which theme is illustrated as Daisy thinks about her life?
Watch this video on theme, then answer the next question. (This annotation contains a video)
What is the effect of the way the writing is structured in this excerpt?
This is an example of verbal irony.
Depending on the edition, Jane Eyre is about 600 pages long! (This annotation contains an image)
Rephrase the idea stated in this excerpt in your own words. What theme could you extract from this idea?
Who is in this picture that makes it important to Magnus?
Magnus is reciting the beginning of Jane Eyre.
Summarize Daisy's life now as it is described on the first pages of Chapter Nine.
It seems as though not only is Daisy no longer in control of her body, but she also no longer controls her daily activities, such as when to pray.
Why do you think Daisy remembers this particular Bible verse?
This is a Biblical allusion to a parable in Matthew. Click on the link for a brief translation of the Bible passage then answer the following question. (This annotation contains a link)
The Flowers are Daisy's old lady friends. Each of them have a name that either sounds like or is the name of a type of flower. (This annotation contains an image)
These phrases are all euphemisms for dying. The term euphemism refers to polite, indirect expressions which replace words and phrases considered harsh and impolite or which suggest something unpleasant. For example, many organizations use the term “downsizing” for the distressing act of firing its employees.
How does Daisy view organized religion? Use references from the text to support your answer.
This isn't the first time Daisy has had her dearly beloved Flowers taken away from her. Which of the following experiences caused a similar reaction in Daisy?
Alice is comparing the way the two names sound. She thinks Flett sounds cacophonous, or ugly sounding, and Goodwill more euphonious, or pleasant sounding. Can you think of other cacophonous and euphonious words?
Which symptom of growing old seems to be effecting Daisy the most?
A bedjacket is like a shirt-sized robe. (This annotation contains an image)
It is possible that Daisy's "greatest weakness" springs from her mother dying during her birth. Daisy may feel partly (or wholly) responsible for Mercy's death.
This excerpt exemplifies which of the following literary devices?
Poet Billy Collins writes of the losses of old age through one of its seemingly benign symptoms, forgetfulness, in this poem. Watch the video of Collins reading his poem, then answer the next question. (This annotation contains a video)
What is Collins' speaker's attitude toward growing old, and how is it similar or different to Daisy's?
The first chapter of this novel is the only one that is narrated entirely in the first person. Why might the author have chosen to shift narrative voices? At what points in the book does the narrative "I" return? Who do you think is telling Daisy's story?
These italicized parts are random notes written by Daisy throughout her life. Consider why she may have hung on to them for so long.
This description of Daisy characterizes her as which of the following?
Given the symbolism of stone in the book, consider the implications of this line.
Which of the following literary devices does this passage include?
Shields once commented that she'd often set up the structure of a novel, determining such elements as how many chapters there would be, and how long they'd be, before she even set out to write. "I need that kind of structure," she explained. "[S]ometimes I change it. But mostly I don't.… I love structures, and I love making new structures for novels." How does Shields use, or even undermine, the biography format in The Stone Diaries?