On Chesil Beach Discussion Questions

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

'On Chesil Beach' is a novella by Ian McEwan about a short-lived 1960s marriage that is impacted by the sexual repression of that era. This asset contains discussion questions for students about this story.

'On Chesil Beach'

Ian McEwan's 'On Chesil Beach' follows a newly married couple, Edward Mayhew and Florence Ponting, on their honeymoon during which they attempt to consummate their marriage. Their differing ideas about sex, based largely on the cultural norms of the 1960s, leads to communication problems and the end of the marriage. The following questions lead to student discussions about this novella.

Characters and Setting

  • Describe the setting of the story. How does the time setting impact the plot? Why do you think the author chose this title? What do the pebbles on Chesil Beach symbolize?
  • Describe Edward and Florence. What are some ways they are compatible? What are some ways they are different from one another? What do you think are the most important factors when choosing a romantic partner?
  • Compare Edward's family to Florence's. How might social class differences interfere with a relationship? Explain your answer.

Sex and Marriage

  • Describe Edward's attitude towards sex. How are Edward's beliefs influenced by social norms? How do these beliefs affect Edward's decisions? To what degree do you think access to birth control impacted cultural beliefs about sex? How do you think this story would be different if it took place today?
  • What motivates Edward's decision to marry Florence? How are Florence's reasons different from Edward's? In what ways are the same traits that attract Edward to Florence responsible for their incompatibility? What are some other examples of traits that people find attractive, interfere with building lasting relationships?
  • How are Florence's attitudes about sex different from Edward's? Why do you think sexual repression of the time influenced them in different ways? How do you think education would affect Florence's response to Edward?
  • What are some mistakes Florence and Edward made on their wedding night? How could these mistakes have been avoided? Why is communication about this issue challenging for Florence and Edward? What are some communication strategies Edward and Florence could use to resolve their conflict?

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