Questions for Discussion
1. Modern Girls
focuses on a Jewish immigrant family during the Depression. Do you think that Rose and Dottie could as easily have been Irish or Italian or another immigrant ethnicity? Why or why not? If the story were set today, with a modern-day immigrant family, might the story be different?
2. Dottie’s friends have different ideas on what marriage should be. What did marriage mean in 1935? How has the definition of marriage changed?
3. Traditions—keeping kosher, lighting Shabbes candles, having a chuppah at her wedding—are important to Dottie, and she can’t imagine her life without them. What traditions would you have a hard time breaking? Do you believe in the values behind those traditions or do you maintain them simply because that’s what your family has always done?
4. Both Rose and Dottie have definitive ideas about what makes them modern women. Do you identify with their conceptions of the modern? Does holding on to tradition and “old-world” ideas make them less modern in your eyes?
5. Rose thinks Willie is a fool for wanting to travel to Europe at such a dangerous time; Edith admires him for his commitment to journalism and politics. What do you think of his decision? If you were Dottie, would you have gone with him?
6. Eugene spent a year and a half of his life with his aunt, and Rose feels that Eugene is a stranger to her. With Dottie gone, how do you think Rose and Eugene will fare? What do you see for Eugene’s future?
7. Many themes are touched on in this novel: motherhood, family, assimilation, immigration, the rights of women and workers. Which most resonated with you?
8. Rose changed her name and her age as she shed her past life to become an American. If you could start anew, what would you change?
9. How much does the place you live affect how you think of yourself? Are place and identity linked?
10. Dottie’s future is uncertain when the story concludes. What do you think will come of her marriage? What will her future bring?