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These questions and discussion topics are designed to help spark your reading group's discussion of 
The Marble Room.


Reading Group Guide for The Marble Room

 

1. What does “the marble room” symbolize, and how is it characterized throughout the book? 

 

2. How does each section-heading (Death; Burial; and Resurrection) and its general content relate to the classic hero’s journey?

 

3. As a boy, what conflicts in Hatcher’s worldview eventually drive him toward his transformative experience?

 

4. From page 16, “But deep down, I knew living in Africa would be far more meaningful than any of the conventional reasons I could think of for going. It was a nameless ambition that lurked on the edge of my consciousness like a seraph coiled in the shade of a tree.” What does Africa consciously and unconsciously represent to Hatcher in the days leading up to his departure from the U.S.?

 

5. The author recounts his meeting with Dr. Jane Goodall starting on page 73. How does this episode affect the author’s shifting perspectives?

 

6. Consider the scene in the cave on page 121: “I hadn’t thought about it in a long time, but my dad had smoked a pipe when I was very young. I missed the fragrance, but not the smoke.” The trope of a pipe and/or tobacco is used when Hatcher describes his father. But it also pops up when he’s deep inside in the first cave, then during his fantasy of the new moon ceremony, and again at his friend Rich’s house near the end of the book. What could these instances represent?

 

7. Landscapes play an important metaphoric role in the story. Which stand out most conspicuously and why?

 

8. On page 207, Hatcher writes, “Like Meru and Kili, I wanted this mountain bad, and come hell or high water I was willing to put our lives at risk to see it come to pass. Subconsciously I needed it to cleanse me of my sins and of the person I used to be.” Why is Hatcher intent on pushing himself to the limit of his physical abilities, ultimately to the brink of death?

 

9. Which events help dismantle the author’s “passive racism” as the story progresses?

 

10. On page 135, Hatcher writes, “I was attracted to her. I admitted that to myself, and I was fascinated with how unradical it felt to regard a beautiful black woman. Such feelings were quite new to me. Yet I reminded myself that I was her teacher, and any expression of my feelings would be completely inappropriate. Besides, I didn’t know if any feelings she might have for me were genuine or if they would be influenced by my relative position of authority based on my gender, nationality, and race.” Hatcher’s feelings for Farida develop throughout the story. How does their relationship mirror the author’s internal struggles?

 

11. How is Farida critical to the story’s outcome?

 

12. Consider how the author’s views on Christianity change throughout the story. Do you think he seeks to prove the validity of his original, Christian views of the world, or is he actively trying to undermine them? Why?

 

13. What changes occur in the author’s physical appearance as the story progresses? What do these changes represent?

 

14. Discuss the meanings behind the following metaphors: butterflies, snakes, leopard claws.

 

15. Has this book changed the way you view Christianity and religion in general? Is religion necessary in today’s world, or has it become a liability to humanity’s survival? Do you agree with Hatcher’s spiritual conclusions?

Click here for downloadable copy of this discussion guide.
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