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READERS GUIDE

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1.  Discuss London’s complicated feelings about alcohol as evidenced in the opening conversation with Charmian. How does he justify his opinion of Prohibition? Did you find his argument convincing or not? Throughout the book, London insists he is not an alcoholic–do you agree?

2.  What does London mean by the White Logic and the Noseless One? How does their felt presence affect London? Are they strictly metaphorical constructions or more palpable manifestations of London’s drink-addled mind? How does the White Logic correspond to London’s complicated view of death? Do you think London had a death wish?

3.  Critics have argued about John Barleycorn’s autobiographical accuracy. What do you make of this dispute? Were there parts of London’s narrative that rang less true to you than others? How would you appraise the book’s honesty, particularly in light of a historical context very different from our own?

4.  Discuss Jack London’s depiction of himself. How would you describe London, the character, in John Barleycorn? What contradictions, if any, stood out to you?

5.  What role does London’s parentage play in the book? Pete Hamill, in his introduction, asserts that London displays an “orphan’s tone” throughout. Do you agree? How does this tone, and London’s relationship with his mother, inform the book?

6.  Hamill contends that the topic of sex stands as a “curious elision” in John Barleycorn. What do you make of its absence, particularly in light of London’s virile portrayal of himself?

7.  Do you think London glamorizes drinking? How is drinking ultimately depicted in John Barleycorn? What is your opinion of London’s final assertion regarding his drinking? Is this self-awareness, or denial?

 
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