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I Am Charlotte Simmons



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About The Author

Tom WolfeTom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe is the author of more than a dozen books, among them such contemporary classics as The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Right Stuff, The Bonfire of the Vanities, and A Man in Full. A native of Richmond, Virginia, he lives in New York City.

photo: Copyright Mark Seliger

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Reading Group Gold

Discussion Questions

1. I Am Charlotte Simmons might be considered a breakthrough for Tom Wolfe as a novelist in

that it’s the first of his fictional works to be told (for the most part) from a woman’s point of

view. Do you think Wolfe successfully and convincingly presents his tale from a female

perspective? Explain.

2. Among the key relationships depicted in Chapter 1 is Charlotte’s special bond with Miss

Pennington. What other mentors does Charlotte encounter over the full course of this novel?

Is Miss Pennington ever effectively replaced in this capacity? If so, when, and by whom, and

why?

3. Define the following: “dormcest,” “sexiled,” “froshtitute,” and “Sarc 3” (as well as “Sarc 2”

and “Sarc 1,” for that matter). What other collegiate terms or slang vocabulary were new to

you as you made your way through the book?

4. At the beginning of Chapter 5, Hoyt Thorpe fondly looks back on learning (in a class called

“Europe in the Early Middle Ages”) that long ago, throughout most if not all of civilization,

both East and West, there had been “only three classes of men in the world: warriors, clergy,

and slaves.” Why do you think Hoyt is so drawn to this idea? Speaking metaphorically, who

are the “warriors, clergy, and slaves” of this novel? Which camp, for example, would you put

Charlotte in? What about her father, her roommate, or Jojo?

5. Who are the Millennial Mutants? Why do they call themselves this? Look back at a few of

their group discussions, wherein they jointly dissect—and debate—this or that trend or

concept in contemporary American life (such as, for instance, Adam’s ideas on what it means

to be “cool”). Then, try to investigate the validity and/or accuracy of the points being made by

the various Mutants; that is, dissect their dissections, critique their critiques, question their

assumptions and their logic, argue with their arguments.

6. Why is Jojo Johanssen so fixated on the life and thought of Socrates? What is it about

philosophical thought—especially ancient, fundamental, basic philosophy—that appeals to

Jojo, a man of admittedly limited smarts? Are any of the other jocks at Dupont ever drawn to

matters intellectual? If so, whom? And why?

7. Looking back on the pivotal event of this novel—the Saint Ray formal, as detailed in Chapters

24, 25, and 26—do you think it’s accurate to assert (as has at least one book reviewer) that

Charlotte was raped?

8. What role does Charlotte’s mother play in our heroine’s life over the full arc of the story?

Describe their relationship. What does Charlotte seem to like or admire most about her

mother, and least? And why does Charlotte keep so many secrets from her? At one point, in

Chapter 27, Charlotte complains to her mother that she has lately “been under so much

stress.” She immediately regrets using the word “stress,” however, because “she knew

Momma would spot it right away for the trendy term it was. What was stress, when you got

right down to it, but just plain weakness when it came to doing the right thing?” Do you agree

with his view? Why or why not? And, more generally, what do you make of the country

wisdom (as culled from her Momma and from others) that Charlotte thinks back on, reminds

herself of, and draws lessons from through the novel?

9. Thinking particularly about the characters, personalities, backgrounds, and endeavors of Adam

Gellin, Jerome P. Quat, and Frederick Cutler III, explore the points that Tom Wolfe makes in

this book about Jewish intellectual life and achievement in America.

10. Clarify the difference between “Fuck Patois” and “Shit Patois”—and, if it’s not too

embarrassing, provide a few examples of each. More generally, discuss how the detailed,

wide-ranging, and incessant attention given by Wolfe to language throughout I Am Charlotte

Simmons
relates to the attention he gives to (among other topics) class, wealth, society,

culture, ethnicity, history, politics, the media, literature, sports, and scholarship.

11. Both Chapters 31 and 32 end with the idea of being “a man”—and yet two different ideas

seem to be at work here. Compare and contrast these two instances of manhood, and the

characters who define/embody these instances.

12. Although we are not told outright, what do you think will become of Hoyt Thorpe? What

path ultimately awaits him, upon graduation? What does his future hold? (Think back to the

story of his parents, of his childhood and his upbringing, when crafting your answer.) And

who finally revealed Hoyt’s secrets to Adam Gellin, who sold him out?

13. Discuss I Am Charlotte Simmons as a work of fictionalized journalism, of reportage or

exposé. As one critic wrote of this novel, “Wolfe’s authorial tone [throughout] is: You don’t

have to like this, and I’m not too crazy about it myself, but this is the way it is, and we both

know it.” Do you agree? Why or why not? Was there anything in this novel that you—as a

reader and, perhaps, as a former college student—found especially disturbing, surprising, or

even shocking? Or was there anything that struck you as incredible, implausible, or

unbelievable? In both cases, explain. In particular, talk about how Wolfe’s novel explores:

the political correctness implicit in all of American scholarly life, and in all academic

politics; the big-time clout, and behind-the-scenes power and corruption, that defines

collegiate sports; and the rampant “binge drinking” that characterizes frat parties—and most

if not all other social functions at today’s universities.

14. When asked by an interviewer which was chosen first during the creation of this book—the

setting or the characters—Wolfe admitted that it was the setting. Does this surprise you?

Why or why not?

15. Go back to a few of the many points in this novel where the lyrics to a popular song (be it

real or imaginary) are recited, quoted, or otherwise reprinted: rap, rock, whatever. Then,

discuss why and how these lyrics collectively function (like the Greek chorus of a classical

drama) as an ironic commentary on the narrative of I Am Charlotte Simmons.

16. Revisit the epigraph that begins this novel, the citation on Victor Ransome Starling from the

fictional Dictionary of Nobel Laureates. How does this citation mirror, or at least echo, the

behavior of various characters in the novel (especially Charlotte)?

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