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Work Song Reader’s Guide

By Ivan Doig

Work Song by Ivan Doig


Questions and Topics for Discussion


A decade after he left Montana at the end of Ivan Doig’s bestselling The Whistling Season, Morrie Morgan is back—this time in post-WWI Butte, the copper-mining capital of the world. When Morrie gets caught up in the mounting clash between the mining company, outside agitators, and the beleaguered miners, he finds a unique way to give a voice to those who truly need one.


Ivan Doig was born in Montana and grew up along the Rocky Mountain Front. A former ranch hand, newspaperman, and magazine editor, with a Ph.D. in history, Doig is the author of ten novels and three works of nonfiction, including the classic memoir This House of Sky.

  • What are the promises and challenges of the less settled frontier life? What kind of personalities do you think make out best under these conditions? Which have a hard time flourishing?

  • “Copper is the blood of Butte” (126). Copper pulses through the veins of the town, and holds the key to Butte’s identity. How do the Anaconda Mining Company, and the tensions with the union and the IWW, shape Butte and the lives and destinies of the residents?

  • Ivan Doig is as careful in planning and plotting his novels as he is in the writing. Why, then, might he have made Morrie a “cryer” as his first job in Butte?

  • In Work Song, the town library serves a vital role not only as a home for precious literary volumes, but it also stands as a community center for a wide variety of groups and ideas. Has the role of the public library changed?

  • What is it about Morrie’s temperament and skills that make him such an adaptable leader? He seems uniquely suited for each position put in front of him—from promoter to cryer to librarian—until another calling presents itself…

  • Describe the women in Morrie’s life (Rose, Grace, Rab). What does he gain from and share with each?

  • From the miners at Anaconda to Dora Sandison’s Gilbert and Sullivan appreciation group, discuss the place of song in the lives of the townspeople. What gives these songs—from the hymns to the protest calls—their power and passion? What is the significance of the miner’s new work song?

  • Were you surprised by Sandison’s involvement with the winning work song—especially after learning the truth behind some of his mythologies and misdeeds? Do you find this a plot device by the author or a moral of redemption in the story?

  • Why does Morrie feel so protective of Russian Famine, going so far as to set him up with a steady position and a financial future? Before departing he also provides for the miners, Rab and Jared, and Hoop and Griff. Discuss his motivation.

  • What adventures do you think lie in store for the Morgans as they depart for a new life?
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