State of Wonder Discussion Questions

Instructor: Tammy Galloway

Tammy teaches business courses at the post-secondary and secondary level and has a master's of business administration in finance.

'State of Wonder' by Ann Patchett explores moral and ethical actions of practitioners in the medical field. Due to the mature content, use the following questions for middle school age students and up.

Questions for State of Wonder

These discussion questions allow students to demonstrate their understanding of the overarching plot, characters, and scenes in Ann Patchett's novel, State of Wonder.

Two Doctors on an Island

Annick Swenson and Marina Singh are doctors who find themselves together in Brazil among the Lakashi tribe. The following questions explore their time on the tribal land.

  • Describe Dr. Swenson's work. Explain how Dr. Swenson and Marina know each other. Are they upstanding medical professionals? Use quotes from the storyline to support your answer.
  • What moral considerations about Dr. Swenson's work come to mind as you read the storyline? Would her research be legal in the United States? Why or why not?
  • Does Dr. Swenson believe her work is necessary? Explain her feelings toward the Lakashi tribal women. How do they feel about her? What does Marina think about Dr. Swenson?

Marina's Plight

Karen Eckman and Mr. Fox influenced Marina to go to the Amazon jungle to seek the truth about Anders. Discuss the following questions to demonstrate your understanding of these scenes.

  • List three adjectives to describe Marina. Compare and contrast her personality with Karen. How are they similar? Discuss any differences. If you were a character in a book, would you be friends with Marina and Karen? Why or why not?
  • Discuss Marina's relationship with Mr. Fox. What are your thoughts about their business and personal encounters? Would you date your boss? Explain.
  • Do you think Karen and Mr. Fox should have asked Marina to go to the jungle? Explain. Why do you think Marina decided to go? Would you have gone to the jungle? Explain your rationale.

Ethical Considerations

Marina faces many dilemmas throughout the State of Wonder. Answer these questions to discuss the major ethical challenges she encounters.

  • Does Marina have an obligation to her company to report Dr. Swenson? Explain. Would a co-worker's inability to act be considered complicit in a similar situation as Marina and Dr. Swenson? If you were Marina, what would you do and why?
  • Marina is caught in a three-way moralistic triangle between her lover, employer, and a drug. Explain. What are your feelings toward Marina at this point in the storyline? Do you have empathetic feelings toward her? Why or why not? What does Marina ultimately decide? Discuss why you agree or disagree with her decision.
  • Marina finds out that Dr. Swenson had stolen Easter from the neighboring tribe years ago. Marina loves this child but is forced to choose between her lost coworker Anders or the child. Describe what finally happens. If you were Marina's best friend, what advice would you have given her and why?
  • Marina performs surgery on Dr. Swenson. Describe the surgical procedure and its purpose. Explain how Marina felt about the surgery and the personal conflict she encountered.

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