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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

The White Bone

1. When Date Bed is separated from her family, she discovers that the Domain has been warped by the violence of man. Because these are “abnormal times,” she’s not quite certain of animals’ behaviors anymore. It’s clear that the arrival of man has not only altered the elephants’ world, but the animal kingdom at large. In what ways are each of the character’s perspectives altered, both through direct circumstance and spiritually?

2. In what ways do the elephants’ religion parallel and differ from the varieties of human worship?

3. Standing amidst the slaughter of his family, Hail Stones says to Mud, “Only in moments of bliss does it become apparent to us why terrible things happen” (p. 117). What does the young bull mean by this statement? If Mud cannot yet understand the statement, does she by the end of the novel?

4. On p. 121: “Twice [She-Snorts] located Date Bed’s dung and twice she smelled single drops of her blood. At the first discovery of blood, on the node of a log, She-Snorts said, ‘She is wounded,’ and She-Soothes bellowed, ‘Hardly at all!’ and their voices, one frightened, one encouraged, described the precise, contracted boundaries of what could be reasonably felt. Not despairing, not yet. Not relieved yet, either.” How do these opposite sentiments resonate throughout the novel at large? Where would you say Mud stands between such opinions?

5. At the opening of Chapter Ten (p. 159), the author describes the elephants’ sense of time. What role does memory play in such measurements, and what do the elephants’ perceptions say about how they view themselves?

6. When left to her own devices, how does Date Bed improvise her own measurements of time? And as a consequence, how does her memory change?

7. Toward the end of Mud’s pregnancy, she experiences a dream of Date Bed telling her, “You must understand, we aren’t what we think we are.” Date Bed’s trunk then disappears, and out of the cavity a wind blows and a baby cries, “Mama!” What do you think this vision means to Mud? What are her feelings about her own child?

8. When Date Bed finds the Thing, she begins what could be described as a self-exploration. Her journey increasingly begins to turn inward. Through the exercises that she uses to recover lost memory, what does Date Bed find?

9. “By what misguided arrangement were she-ones made swollen with memory rather than sleek with appetite?” (p. 320) Discuss the relevancy of this statement, not only at the close of the book, but throughout the entire novel.

10. Through Mud’s eyes, who is Bolt?

The White Bone
by Barbara Gowdy

  • Publication Date: June 3, 2000
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Picador
  • ISBN-10: 0312264127
  • ISBN-13: 9780312264123