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Jamestown -- Discussion Guide

Jamestown -- Discussion Guide

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A group of "settlers" (more like survivors) arrive in Virginia from the ravished island of Manhattan, intending to establish an outpost, find oil, and exploit the Indians controlling the area. But nothing goes quite as planned (one settler, for instance, keeps losing body parts). At the heart of the story is Pocahontas, who speaks Valley Girl, Ebonics, Old English, and Algonquin—sometimes all in the same sentence. And she pursues a heated romance with settler Johnny Rolfe via text messaging, instant messaging, and, ultimately, telepathy.

Deadly serious and seriously funny, Matthew Sharpe’s fictional retelling of one of America’s original myths is a history of violence, a cross-cultural love story, and a tragicomic commentary on America’s past and present.
A group of "settlers" (more like survivors) arrive in Virginia from the ravished island of Manhattan, intending to establish an outpost, find oil, and exploit the Indians controlling the area. But nothing goes quite as planned (one settler, for instance, keeps losing body parts). At the heart of the story is Pocahontas, who speaks Valley Girl, Ebonics, Old English, and Algonquin—sometimes all in the same sentence. And she pursues a heated romance with settler Johnny Rolfe via text messaging, instant messaging, and, ultimately, telepathy.

Deadly serious and seriously funny, Matthew Sharpe’s fictional retelling of one of America’s original myths is a history of violence, a cross-cultural love story, and a tragicomic commentary on America’s past and present.

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Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on Aug 05, 2013
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Reading Group Guide
Jamestown
By Matthew Sharpe
About the book:
 A group of "settlers" (more like survivors) arrive in Virginia from the ravished island of Manhattan, intending to establish an outpost, find oil, and exploit the Indians controlling thearea. But nothing goes quite as planned (one settler, for instance, keeps losing body parts). Atthe heart of the story is Pocahontas, who speaks Valley Girl, Ebonics, Old English, and Algonquin
sometimes all in the same sentence. And she pursues a heated romance withsettler Johnny Rolfe via text messaging, instant messaging, and, ultimately, telepathy.
Deadly serious and seriously funny, Matthew Sharpe’s fictional retelling of one of America’s
original myths is a history of violence, a cross-cultural love story, and a tragicomic commentary
on America’s past and present.
 
About the author:
 
MATTHEW SHARPE
is the author of the novels
The Sleeping Father 
and
Nothing IsTerrible,
as well as the short-story collection
Stories from the Tube
. He teaches creative writingat Wesleyan University. His stories and essays have appeared in
Harper’s Magazine, Zoetrope,BOMB, McSweeney’s, American Letters & Commentary, Southwest Review,
and
Teachers &Writers
. He lives in New York City.
Discussion Questions:
 This discussion guide is also available inPDF format(115 KB)1. Compare
Jamestown
to other postapocalyptic novels, films, or TV shows. How does Sharpeuse the conventions of this genre to tell his story, and in what ways does he depart from thoseconventions?2. How much did you know about Jamestown and Pocahontas before you read this novel? Howdid your familiarity with the basic story inform your reading of the novel, and vice versa?
Compare Sharpe’s version of the story with others—
for example, the Disney film
Pocahontas
or the version that you were taught in history class. How does Sharpe subvert or comment onthese versions, for example in the "recruiting video" that the Manhattan Company films in
Central Park? Discuss Sidney Feingold’s musing, "A gentler 
time: a constant myth since man
 
began to prey upon the earth; nostalgia is optimism in reverse chronology" (page 94). How doesthis quote relate to the various historical and fictional Jamestowns with which you are familiar?3. Discuss the different voices in which Pocahontas speaks, from "teenybopper" shorthandreminiscent of MySpace postings to an exaggerated African American dialect. Why doesSharpe use these different voices? Are the shifts in voice prompted by external events? Is therea pattern to them? Do the different voices keep you from seeing Pocahontas as a unifiedcharacter, or do they combine to create one?
4. Who are the "Indians"? Albert refers to "the ancient folkways we’ve tried to adopt from people
whose bloodline we do not continue but whose folkways we try to, though we know them only infragments and some of them make no sense in the present" (page 151). Why do you think the"Indians" have done this? Why would survivors of an apocalyptic event adopt the culture of Native Americans?5. What is the significance of the messages that Pocahontas and Johnny send out on their wireless devices early in the novel? Compare the various ways that each character addressesthese notes (for example, "Hello, in a sense," "Dear air," and "To the one who I hope receives,
this, though I’m not sending it"). What is the difference between composing electronic messages
that no one is likely to receive and keeping a diary? What changes when Pocahontas andJohnny start corresponding with each other by instant message and e-mail, and finally bytelepathy? What is the difference between writing and thinking?6. Communication is unreliable in this novel. Discuss the different kinds of miscommunicationthat occur. For example, why are names mispronounced so often ("Sit-Knee Find Gold," "Pokea Huntress"), and why do the Indians pretend not to understand English? Why does Sharpemake miscommunication such a central theme?7.
Jamestown
is not a conventionally realistic novel; it often seems cartoonish or staged. But inwhat ways is it realistic? Is it psychologically accurate or truthful? Did it affect you differentlythan a more "realistic" novel with the same premise might have?8. Describe the various kinds of humor Sharpe uses in the novel. Which parts did you findfunniest, and why? Are the jokes meant to be funny? How might
Jamestown
have been differentwithout these comic elements? For example, how would the ubiquitous violence have beendifferent if there had been less of a slapstick element to it?9. Discuss the character Sidney Feingold. How does he fit into the Indian culture? What is thesignificance of the fact that he is the only "Indian" with an entirely "American" name and is aJewish psychologist? Discuss the scenes in which Sidney Feingold administers Rorschach teststo the New Yorkers. What do the tests reveal about the subjects, and about Sidney? Are theyuseful to the Indians? Why do you think Sharpe includes these scenes?

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