The Winter of Our Discontent - Essay Questions

1.  Compare and contrast Ethan’s children.  What are the differences and similarities between the two children in relation to how they treat their father and the respect they show to family history and historical knowledge?  Why does Ethan find hope in his daughter and not his son?

2.  Examine the character of Margie Young-Hunt.  Do you find that her character deteriorates as the story progresses?  Do you respect her, hate her, or feel sorry for her at the end of the novel?  Why?

3.  During the story, all the politicians get caught in a large scandal.  Ethan’s reaction is to feel sorry for these men.  Examine why Ethan does not change his course of action after hearing about the scandal.  Was the scandal one last warning before Ethan gets too engrossed in his plans or was it too late for Ethan? 

4.  The elements of first-degree murder are: 1) murder, 2) committed with deliberate premeditation, and 3) malice aforethought (which is defined as either: intent to kill in the sense of desiring the homicide or taking such action that its occurrence is substantially certain; or a wanton and willful disregard of an unreasonable human risk.)  Ignoring the superseding cause of Danny’s alcoholism, examine whether or not Ethan’s actions toward Danny meet the definition of first-degree murder.

5. Consider the ways in which Steinbeck depicts women in The Winter of Our Discontent. What forces motivate them? What kind of effect do they have on men?