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Which of the following best describes the narrator's attitude in this encounter?
The tone of this statement is undeniably sarcastic, with a hint of anger. The tone of a passage describes the author's attitude towards his or her subject. Tone is similar to mood. Mood describes atmosphere, and characters' feelings. To learn more about tone and mood, please watch the video below! (This annotation contains a video)
How does what Nick says and acts like compare to what he is thinking? What does this say about his character?
It is important to pay attention to the structure of this novel. Scenes will bounce between Nick's journal entries, which describe the past, and Nick's present. Be sure to keep an eye out for section headings (like this one) so that you are aware of changes between the two settings!
What does this chapter reveal about Tom?
Taking responsibility for one's actions will become a major theme of this novel. Think of a theme as a central idea of a work. Themes usually unravel and develop over the course of a novel, so keep an eye out for the idea of responsibility as the plot unfolds. To learn more about theme, please watch the video below! (This annotation contains a video)
What character traits does Mario possess?
Nick's repeated use of the word "whatever" suggests that he
When Tom makes fun of Nick for "slobbering" over Caitlin in class, he is using figurative language. Figurative language is when an author uses words in a way that is not meant to be taken literally. Nick has not actually been drooling all over the place, but Tom's description of him as "slobbering the whole hour" depicts Nick's lust for Caitlin, much like a dog slobbers when in the presence of a juicy steak. To learn more about figurative and literal language, please watch the video below! (This annotation contains a video)
This sentence contains a simile. A simile is a phrase that compares two things using the words "like" or "as". In this case, Nick's father's voice is being compared to nails on a blackboard. This simile is meant to evoke the unpleasant response Nick has to hearing his father speak. Another example of a simile is: Jonah's face turned as red as a tomato when he realized he had humiliated himself in front of the whole school. To learn more about similes and metaphors, another type of literary device, please watch the video below! (This annotation contains a video)
Which of the following does this paragraph illustrate?
Based on what you know about Nick so far, why do you think he lies about having a ride home? Use textual evidence to back up your claims.
Notice how important love is to Nick. He needs Wimpy to like him the best, so he feeds him table scraps at every opportunity. What do you think motivates Nick to do this?
Just for a visual, this is what a palmetto bug looks like. Palmetto bug is really just another name for an American Cockroach. Obviously, if someone makes a sound like she has just seen a palmetto bug, that is not a happy sound. (This annotation contains an image)
It's not surprising, given this novel's title, that the phrase "breathing underwater" is repeated throughout this text. Mario first introduces it, as a metaphor for being overwhelmed by a life that expects boys to act like men without helping them to figure out what being a man truly means. When a phrase or idea is repeated throughout a text, it is called a motif. This particular motif may change in meaning over the course of the novel, or it may remain the same. Keep an eye out for it! To learn more about motif, please watch the video below! (This annotation contains a video)
Nick frequently references the discrepancy between his inner feelings and the face he presents to the world. In what ways has Nick hidden his true feelings during this English class? What are his motivations for doing so?
Which of the novel's themes does this statement most closely relate to?
This sentence contains hyperbole. Hyperbole is a literary device in which an author uses a gross exaggeration to paint a vivid picture. In this case, Nick could have written "after someone splashed some water onto Caitlin's skirt..." but that is not nearly as interesting or as vivid as the hyperbole he uses to describe the event. To learn more about hyperbole, please watch the video below! (This annotation contains a video)
By now you have likely noticed that this entire novel is narrated in the first person, meaning that the main character tells the story. Do you think that Nick is a reliable narrator? Why or why not? To learn more about point of view and cultural perspective, please watch the video below! (This annotation contains a video)
Which of the following aspects of this paragraph suggest that the novel is set in the fairly recent past?
Keep an eye out for future examples of Nick's manipulative behavior. Here, he is clearly trying to pressure Caitlin to engage in sexual behavior she is not ready for. Nick leverages Caitlin's insecurity to make her feel badly for not wanting to get to the next level with him. This is not how healthy relationships work, and unfortunately, this is only the beginning for Nick and Caitlin.
Nick's behavior here is best described as
Yikes! Even though Mario seems like a patient, good guy, he's falling into some pretty ugly victim-blaming when he says this. Victim blaming is the idea that the victim of abuse or violence somehow is to blame for what has befallen him or her. It is echoed in phrases like "but she shouldn't have been wearing that if she didn't want to be attacked" or "nobody was forcing him to stay in that relationship". Abusive relationships are a lot more complicated than most people realize. A woman may be perceived as "weak" for remaining with an abusive boyfriend or husband, when really she is petrified to leave because of what will happen if she gets caught. Mario's suggestion here that "the good ones" will not tolerate "macho mind games" implies that Caitlin isn't a "good one" or that she is dumb or weak. That's probably not what he intends, but unfortunately a lot of discussions around abuse end up somehow belittling or blaming the victim. Watch out for this in the coming chapters, and in your own readings and discussions about abuse.
Make a prediction about how Nick will feel about discussing his family life in family violence class. Use textual evidence to back up your claims.
Which literary device does this passage contain?
How is Nick's treatment of Caitlin changing over the course of their relationship?
It's hard to imagine forgiving Nick's behavior as quickly as Caitlin does here. Why do you think she does it? What is going on in her life that might make her put up with his verbal abuse?
This phrase is an example of a euphemism. A euphemism is a phrase that softens or obscures the harsher meaning of something that's controversial or negative. For example, "kick the bucket" and "pass on" are both euphemisms for dying. Here, "paternally imposed exile" is a softer way of describing Nick's absence from school because of his father's beating. Can you think of any other common euphemisms? (This annotation contains an image)
Notice that this exchange echoes Nick's conversation with Mario about slapping Caitlin. Both times, Nick downplays the seriousness of "one hit" or "one slap". How is Nick's abuse of Caitlin similar to his father's abuse of him? How are these two scenarios different?
What does this question reveal about Nick?
This is a reference to Cuba's being a communist country. Because Cuba and Florida are geographically close to one another, there are many Cuban people in Florida. There is a wide spectrum of attitudes towards immigrants in the United States, from complete acceptance to utter rejection. Kelly is obviously more on the side of prejudice. Why do these young men resort to racial slurs and name-calling so often? What are they trying to achieve by tearing each other down?
Uncle Gustavo appears to be full of these little aphorisms. An aphorism is a witty phrase that sums up some universal truth. "An apple a day keeps the doctor away" is an aphorism, as is "a penny saved is a penny earned". Can you think of other aphorisms you've heard before? What does Gustavo's mean?
What is the importance of this detailed description of Nick's first encounter with Caitlin's mother?
In his mind, Nick undoubtedly thinks that breaking into Caitlin's locker to give her flowers is an expression of his love for her. In reality, he is breaking the law and disregarding the boundaries set to keep Caitlin safe from him. It's stuff like this that shows both Nick's flouting of boundaries and his true cluelessness about what love really means. Do you feel sympathy for Nick? Why or why not?
Why is Nick telling Caitlin this story? What is it that he hopes to show and/or gain by doing so? Use textual evidence to back up your claims.
It's clear that Caitlin's family members are just as incapable of modeling healthy relationships as Nick's father is. How has this affected Caitlin?
Take notice of the pacing of this novel. Nick's "present" has only covered about two months, but the addition of flashbacks to his past make it feel like we've known him for longer than that. Pacing is an important aspect of any novel; please watch the video below to learn more about it! (This annotation contains a video)
What does Caitlin's pen represent?
Now that Tom admits that he has noticed Nick's poor treatment of Caitlin, do you think Nick will try to be more secretive? Will he try to change?
What is the tone of this excerpt?
Does this detail suggest that Leo has reformed? Does it sound like Leo was right about not needing the family violence class?
St. Francis of Assisi was a Catholic priest and preacher from Italy. He lived in the 12th century and is famous for his gentleness, his reverence for nature and animals, and his devotion to living a Christ-like life. Mario uses him as an example of a pacifist, or someone who is generally opposed to violence. (This annotation contains an image)
In what ways have Nick and his classmates made progress? In what ways are they still the same? Use textual evidence to back up your claims.
Except for writing the poem, all of Nick's gestures of love revolve around buying stuff for Caitlin. Given that the only time Nick has felt loved by his father was when his dad bought him a Dolphins jersey at a football game, it's not hard to see why he thinks that throwing money at someone is an acceptable way to show your love. This is not to say that buying gifts isn't a romantic or thoughtful thing to do, it's just that presents are not the only way to show love, right?
Pick three characters from this lunchtime scene who have acted in an immature manner. For each, describe what he or she does that is immature, and what his or her motivation is for behaving this way.
It sounds like ALL of Nick's friends could use a lesson on respecting others, and in particular on respecting women. Aside from Wayne the Brain, there doesn't appear to be a single guy in this book who doesn't objectify women. This is not representative of high schoolers in general, it just seems like Nick and his friends are particularly terrible.
What does this scene illustrate?
Please listen to Mary Wells' "Two Lovers" and be prepared to answer a question about it! (This annotation contains a video)
How do the lyrics of "Two Lovers" relate to Caitlin and Nick's relationship? In what ways are the two relationships different?
What does this passage reveal about Nick's character?
As you may have learned, the sphinx is a mythical creature from ancient Greek culture. It has the body of a lion, the face of a human and, sometimes, the wings of an eagle. Sphinxes are known for their ruthlessness, which make it a pretty appropriate name for Caitlin's new sorority group. (This annotation contains an image)
What is the tone of this statement?
This is an example of a rhetorical question. Rhetorical questions are questions that are not meant to be answered. "Why me, God?" is an example of a rhetorical question. People usually ask rhetorical questions to get other people to think. (This annotation contains an image)
Of course, Nick already has violated his restraining order, by breaking into Caitlin's locker, talking to her directly and calling her on the phone. Why would Nick be bringing this up with Mario if he has already done it?
Why does Mario remove Nick's sunglasses?
Remember when Nick denied that he had talked about Caitlin's body to other people? Turns out he not only does that, but it's even worse because she is there and he is intentionally humiliating her. What does Nick's denial say about his willingness to admit wrongdoing?
Which literary devices does this excerpt contain?
Which of the novel's themes does this excerpt touch upon?
This is short for "barracuda," a long, silver fish known for its speed and razor-sharp teeth. (This annotation contains an image)
What does it say about Tom that he responds to Nick's insult, but does not comment on Nick's remark that he has to "call the shots" in his relationship? Use textual evidence to back up your response.
This is an interesting statement. What does Tom mean by it?
This scene is about to get a lot more tense. To learn more about tension in literature, please watch the video below! (This annotation contains a video)
Which of the following does NOT contribute to the tension in this scene?
This really is the climax of the novel. From the first few pages, we know that Nick is going to hit Caitlin. Tension builds as their relationship gets more and more abusive and unpredictable, and finally, the slap occurs. Do you feel the tension release after the slap occurs, or is there still some stress in all of this?
Use the Define feature to read the definition of gorgon. Which of the following words is an antonym (opposite in meaning) of gorgon as it is used here?
It's interesting that in all of his efforts to get Caitlin back, Nick never once apologizes. What do you make of that?
What does this gesture symbolize?
Do you believe Nick? Why or why not?
Describe the mood of this scene. What does the author do to evoke this mood?
It is frustrating that Nick does not just admit that his father is abusing him so that Ms. Higgins can help him. That said, he has his reasons for not telling her. What are they? What would you do if you were in his position?
Which of the following literary devices is can NOT be found in this excerpt?
Use the Define feature to read the definition of saccharine. Which of the following words is an antonym (opposite in meaning) of saccharine as it is used here?
"The Iliad" is an ancient Greek epic poem by Homer. It is one of the most famous, respected and widely-taught classics in human history, and it tells the story of the Trojan War. Ms. Higgins' joke, of course, is that she is actually reading a trashy romance novel, which is the exact literary opposite of "The Iliad". (This annotation contains an image)
Nick is a complex character. He does horrible things and behaves terribly for a lot of the novel, but he is not entirely unsympathetic. Is Nick a victim? Why or why not? Use textual evidence to back up your claims.
For someone who can be so cruel and unkind to Caitlin, Nick sure is sensitive when it comes to talking about his non-anger emotions, isn't he?
Just the fact that Nick is thinking about how he would react if Caitlin were late shows that he is making progress. He has a long way to go, but he clearly wants to improve. What motivates his desire to become a better person? Is it peer pressure? A desire to get Caitlin back? Something else?
Why is Leo's behavior so familiar?
Nick is an interesting character because he is both this novel's protagonist and its antagonist. The protagonist is the main character in a work, one who the audience roots for and wants to succeed. Nick isn't a typical protagonist in this sense, because his behavior is so harmful and despicable. An antagonist is the character who stands in the way of the protagonist's goals. Nick really is his own worst enemy, so he fits as the antagonist of this story. To learn more about protagonists and antagonists, please watch the video below! (This annotation contains a video)
In what ways is Nick like Leo? In what ways are these two characters different? Use the text to support your arguments.
Note the sinister tone at the end of this chapter. What predictions do you have for the upcoming scenes?
Foreshadowing is when the author drops a hint about something that will occur later in the plot. This literary device is important because it can give readers little clues without spoiling an important event entirely. To learn more about foreshadowing, please watch the video below! Be prepared to answer a question about foreshadowing when you have finished. (This annotation contains a video)
Were Leo and Neysa's deaths foreshadowed?
Notice the use of colors in this paragraph: white, red, darkness. How do these references affect the way the reader visualizes the scene that is unfolding?
This scene is truly awful and, unlike when Nick slaps Caitlin on the bridge, it is not something the reader knows will eventually happen. How does the knowledge that Nick does not just slap Caitlin once, as he has said all along, affect how you view him as a narrator? Does this change how you view the entire novel? Why or why not?
Whoa. Has Nick changed enough to "graduate" from Mario's class?
Use the Define feature to read the definition of hubris. Which of the following words is an antonym (opposite in meaning) of hubris as it is used here?
Lollapalooza is a giant music festival that plays in Chicago and in a few South American cities like Santiago and São Paulo. It tends to feature rock bands ranging from Nine Inch Nails to Jane's Addiction to The Smashing Pumpkins to Muse. (This annotation contains an image)
What is the mood at the end of this chapter?
September 2 (My Seventeenth Birthday)
Papou is the Greek word for "grandfather".
In what ways are Nick and his father the same? In what ways do they differ?
In fact, if you really like "Breathing Underwater," there is a sequel to this novel called "Diva" which follows Caitlin in her new life at art school. An excerpt from "Diva" can be found at the end of this book!