A Town Like Alice Study Guide

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A Town like Alice most appropriately conforms to the genre of the sociological novel. The book portrays a community and how it deals with the changes due to world conflicts.

"Grief and mourning had ceased to trouble them; death was a reality to be avoided and fought, but when it came - well, it was just one of those things. After a person had died there were certain things that had to be done, the straightening of the limbs, the grave, the cross, the entry in a diary saying who had died and just exactly where the grave was. That was the end of it; they had no energy for afterthoughts."

Chapter 1

  1. Who is the narrator of this story? What is the point of view?
  2. What is the purpose for the meeting of James Macfadden and Mr. Strachen?
  3. How old must Jean Paget be in order to receive the estate?
  4. What relation is Jean to Macfadden?
  5. During the war, what does Donald do?
  6. What is Jean's occupation?
  7. What one thing does Mr. Strachen have to obtain in order to give the estate to Jean?
  8. What is the time period and setting of this story?
  9. What does the doctor decide was Donald's cause of death?
  10. Who invades Malaya? Why do they invade?
  11. Why is Jean in Malaya at the start of the war?
  12. What has Jean been doing since the day the Japanese took over her town?

Chapter 2

  1. Explain the feelings of the women when the male family members are taken from them.
  2. Explain why Jean doesn't stay in Malaya as a teenager, and when does she return there?
  3. Explain Jean's route of escape as the Japanese get closer.
  4. Explain the difference in how the men and women are treated differently by the Japanese.
  5. Of the women that stay behind, who makes the best leader, and why?
  6. Compare and contrast Mrs. Horsefall and Jean Paget.
  7. Describe the British attitude in Malaya prior to the Japanese invasion.
  8. Describe the British attitude in Malaya in the few days after the Japanese invasion.
  9. Why are the women not placed in a camp?
  10. Why Jean is suffering the effects of disease, what does she think about to give herself comfort?
  11. Describe the food given to the women and children.
  12. What is the marching pattern of the group?
  13. How many children does Eileen Holland have, and what is her character/personality like?
  14. What spurs Jean to begin to tell her story to Mr. Strachen about being a prisoner of war?

Chapter 3

  1. Explain why taking care of Johnnie Horsefall does Mrs. Frith a world of good.
  2. What does Joe Harmon nickname Jean? What is the significance of the name?
  3. Do Jean and the other women find their English clothes efficient? Explain.
  4. How does Mrs. Holland's baby, Robin, fare in the march?
  5. Describe Ellen Forbes' character/personality and how it leads to her disappearance.
  6. When the women hear the news that they are no longer going to Singapore, how do they react?
  7. What symptoms and which diseases quickly spread to the children, and eventually kill four children?
  8. After Freddie Holland dies, what does Mrs. Holland do with her baby?
  9. Who are the two mechanics, and what are they doing in Malaya?
  10. Explain why the Australians want to help Jean and the women.
  11. How do the Aussies help and inspire the women?
  12. Compare Jean Paget to Joe Harman.
  13. How is Joe's punishment a parody of a Biblical event?
  14. Explain the feeling developing between Jean and Joe.
  15. How does Jean feel about Joe's punishment?

Chapter 4

  1. What is ironic about the women's morale?
  2. Who is the spiritual leader among the women and always knows when it is Sunday?
  3. Why is Joe Harman seen as a god?
  4. Why else could the women have done if they had not stayed and worked at Kuala Telang?
  5. Why does Jean want to build a well?
  6. How does Jean's decision to build the well end up changing her life?
  7. What disgraces Captain Sugamo?
  8. What happened to Joe after Jean saw him crucified?
  9. What do the women decide to do with the children on their day of rest?

Chapter 5

  1. Why is Joe Harman taken off the tree?
  2. Why do the woman take good care of the Japanese guard when he is sick?
  3. What is ironic about the statement, "Her darkness had been lightened by the well diggers."
  4. Why does Jean want to get in touch with Joe Harman after the war?
  5. Why can't Strachen continue reading Horace in Latin?
  6. Why does Harman go to England, and why doesn't Strachen give him Jean's address?
  7. What makes Alice Springs an appealing town?
  8. Explain the Golden Casket and its significance for Joe Harman.
  9. Explain why Willstown is not an appealing place for women to live in.
  10. After Jean discovers that Joe is still living, what does she do?
  11. Why does Joe Harman wait so long to search for Jean?

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