Skip to main content

Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

The Language of Light

1. Why do you think Nelly Grace moves to her father's ancestral farm at the beginning of The Language of Light? Why does she hide her love of photography from her father? Why doesn't she give herself permission to succeed as a photographer?

2. Nelly and Emma are both women who aspire to be something different than what is expected of them. Do they succeed or fail? How do the differences in their backgrounds and their generations affect their choices?

3. The first Nelly sees of Emma is "a stranger riding across my bridge on horseback, wearing a hat" (p. 8), and Emma appears in various hats throughout the novel. Is her riding cap or the old brown suede hat she wears while on her tractor different from her other hats? Does this say something about her?

4. Is Emma Crofton a woman you would want in your life? What did you like best about her? What did you like least? What is the truth about Emma?

5. Do Nelly's feelings about her husband's death change over the course of the novel? Are they different from her father's emotions about her mother's death?

6. Does Nelly fall in love with Dac, or with his image of her, or neither or both? Is her relationship with Dac similar to her relationship with Wesley?

7. Does Nelly's father love her? Does he support her choices? How does his perception of his relationship with Nelly differ from hers?

8. Does Nelly long to be like her father, or does she fear becoming like him, or both?

9. Nelly, Emma and Willa are all mothers devoted to their sons. Does their love for their children help each of them move forward or hold them back?

10. What does Nelly learn from her father's hidden photographs?

11. What is the "language of light" referred to in the title? How are images of light used throughout the book?

12. In a book about images, what was the most striking image of the novel for you? What photographs have you encountered in your life that have influenced you? What photographs make you most uncomfortable?

13. What do you think a photojournalist's obligations regarding the privacy and dignity of the individual subject are? How would you balance these obligations against the public's right to know?
Was Pat right not to make his hidden photographs public?

14. What does the fact that Pat's photographs turn to ash at the end of the novel say about his life? What does Nelly's burning them mean? Was she right to burn them? Would you have?

The Language of Light
by Meg Waite Clayton

  • Publication Date: November 1, 2003
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • ISBN-10: 0312318014
  • ISBN-13: 9780312318017