Discussion Questions for Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
The Latin Gus writes on the sign, “UVA UVAM VIVENDO VARIA FIT,” is a corruption of a phrase that means something like: “Grapes ripen in the presence of others.” How does this phrase pertain to the Hat Creek Outfit? Does the fact that no one understands it affect the symbolism?
Gus reflects that “They were people of the horse, not of the town” (pg. 81). What does he mean by that? Why is this book called Lonesome Dove when almost none of the book takes place there? And why is this book called Lonesome Dove when almost no one wants to stay or return to this town? What might Lonesome Dove symbolize for the characters? What might it symbolize for us, the reader?
Are there any examples of healthy relationships between men and women? Is love or intimacy expected to be part of marriage? Why do people get married in this time period? How are people’s perspective of love and marriage different today, and why might they have been different back then?
There is a long description of Deets’ view of the moon on pgs. 169-171. Why is this passage included in the book? What does it tell us about Deets? What does it tell us about cowboys?
What are the consequences (if any) of the lack of a classical education? Do the educated have any advantages in the Wild West? How do uneducated superstitions affect the actions of the characters?
Why does Call decide to go to Montana? What does he ultimately want out of life? Why does he despair when Gus dies? Why does he not feel the need to settle down? Why doesn’t he want to lead men? Do you blame him for not giving his son his name? Is giving Newt his horse equivalent?
Are there any truly good characters or truly bad characters in the book? What makes a person good or bad in this Wild West setting? Is there any sense of morality based on religion? What character traits are useful in the Wild West? Are those traits different for men and women? The book points out that stealing horses is fine if you are in Mexico but a deadly crime if you are in the U.S. What other actions can be morally ambiguous, depending on the context? Is Jake ultimately a good person or a bad person and why?
Why does everyone seem to find July Johnson exasperating? Are there any heroic traits to July? What does July and his entourage add to the novel? What makes him important (or is he not important)? How is he different from Clara’s last husband? Why does Clara give July the possibility of being a husband?
In this novel, how do the options available to a woman differ from the options available to a man? What problems come out when the genders meet each other? Some men are scared of women, and some men are violent towards them. How do women deal with this? In what ways can they succeed, and in what ways are they impossibly fenced in?
Most deaths are witnessed by the reader in the book, but Elmira and Zwey die off camera. What’s the difference for the reader? Is there any rhyme or reason for revealing a death as a fact rather than in a scene? Why does the author have her come back from the brink of death in town only to ride into her death in the country?
Why does Clara prefer boys over girls? Does she prefer the company of men over woman as well? What does Clara want out of life? Clara is the only character with dreams of becoming a writer (see pg. 657 to start). How do the books she likes to read resemble this novel? How does her character’s view of what she would write if she could resemble this novel?
In what scenes is race explored in this book? How does the book handle the issue of black men in the Wild West? Does this book make any kind of statement on race, or does it just add black men and racism to be authenticate?
Lorena seems to weave a spell around men. Xavier kills himself over her, and Dish is willing to risk death to get back to her at the end. They will go to great lengths for her. Is her beauty the only draw? What else about her might be a pull? Is she just a pretty girl, or does the novel add depth to her character?
Why is Wilbarger in this book? Is he only a plot device, or does he add something to the story?
What’s the effect of the frequency and randomness of dying on the cattle trail? How does it change how characters view oncoming death when they are dying? How do people deal with the possibility of death at any time?
Is this book a buddy novel about Gus and Call? Is this book a father and son drama between Call and Newt? Who are the main characters in the novel if you had to pick 3? What if you had to pick 5? If you had to write a one-sentence overall theme of this novel, what would it be?
The story ends with the word “whore.” What does this story have to say about prostitution? How integral are prostitutes to the Wild West? How are prostitutes viewed by characters in this novel? How do the prostitutes deal with the stress and demands of their livelihood? What are the differences between Lorena and Elmira?