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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions


1. "For always there was the Fair Princess. For always the Dark Prince," writes Joyce Carol Oates on the first page of the chapter entitled "The Kiss." Who is Norma Jean's Dark Prince? Her true love? Her father? Death? Do you think that romance fiction and movies have led women to hope for a prince to fulfill their dreams? If so, what might be the consequences of expecting that . . . and what were they for Norma Jean?

2. Joyce Carol Oates didn't give names to some characters, such as the Ex-Athlete and the Playwright. Why? Who are some of the other unnamed characters? Especially, who is the Sharpshooter? Do you think that his role in Marilyn's death is metaphorical . . . or is Joyce Carol Oates joining those who suggest that Marilyn Monroe was murdered?

3. Norma Jean as Marilyn Monroe has been called a mythic character -- or perhaps more accurately a cultural icon. What attributes made her a symbol? Are those qualities still idolized today?

4. Was Norma Jean promiscuous or a nymphomaniac, as some people charged? What would you say about her sexual experiences? Can you build a case that what she nearly always experienced was rape, not consensual sex?

5. Can you speculate why the author found this woman so compelling? What do you think makes Norma Jean/Marilyn Monroe such a fertile subject for fiction and nonfiction, film and print, even decades after her death?

by Joyce Carol Oates

  • Publication Date: June 22, 2011
  • Genres: Biography, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 752 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • ISBN-10: 006093493X
  • ISBN-13: 9780060934934