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The Dinner by Herman Koch Discussion Questions

Instructor: Shanna Fox

Shanna has been an educator for 20 years and earned her Master of Education degree in 2017. She enjoys using her experience to provide engaging resources for other teachers.

'The Dinner' is a haunting tale of how two sets of parents face a hard truth about their children. These discussion questions will help you guide your high school students as they process novel themes, analyze its characters, and digest its plot. Updated: 09/12/2019

The Dinner by Herman Koch

These discussion questions are designed to help you guide your high school students as they process the plot, characters, and themes of The Dinner by Herman Koch. As you help students explore this novel's intricacies, these questions can serve as discussion starters. You may want to conduct discussions as a whole class or within student teams. Additionally, as a summative assessment, you may want to engage students in a writing assignment in which they select one or more questions to respond to on paper.

  • Note: These questions are designed to be used after the novel has been read.

Questions about Character

  • Paul Lohmann has a mental health issue that causes violent outbursts, among other issues. How does he think his illness affects his son Michel? Do you think Michel has similar issues, based on his actions in the novel? Use textual examples to support your claim.
  • Claire knows about the murder before her husband does. Why doesn't she tell him? Do you think she makes the right decision by keeping this information to herself?
  • Michel has committed three crimes that we know of in the context of this novel. In of the violent murder and disappearance of Beau, do you think he will continue committing crimes? Why or why not?
  • How does Serge's role as a politician affect his decisions related to the crimes his sons were involved in? Do you think he should have withdrawn from the race? Why or why not?
  • Why is Babette upset with Serge? How do her feelings provide insight into her character? Use details from the novel to support your answers.
  • Is Rick a victim of Michel's influence or is he an equal partner in carrying out the crimes? Explain your answer fully.
  • Beau posts the video of the murder online. Why did he make this decision? Do you think it was the right decision? Do you think the boys would have been incriminated in this murder if he had not posted it? What do you think happened to Beau and why?
  • What role does the floor manager play throughout the novel? Do you think this character is necessary? How does the manager bring out the true feelings of the family members at dinner? What does the manager observe that Paul pays him to forget?

Questions about Plot

This book is broken into five distinct parts. The following plot questions are separated by section.

Part 1: Aperitif

  • In this introductory portion of the novel, the relationship between Claire and Paul is detailed. Describe their relationship. What are they both leaving out of this conversation and why?
  • Paul and Serge have a rocky relationship. Provide evidence of their troubles from this section of the novel. How does Paul feel about Serge? Does Serge recognize these feelings? How does he feel about Paul?

Part 2: Appetizer

  • During this portion of the novel. The conflict between Paul and Serge heats up. Provide a few examples of Paul's resentment of Serge. Provide a few examples of Serge's personality traits that may be offensive to Paul.
  • Revealing details are shared about Babette and Serge's relationship in this section, as well. Describe their relationship. Why does Paul think Babette stays in the relationship with Serge? Do you think he is correct in his judgment? Do you think Serge is a good partner to Babette? Why or why not?

Part 3: Main Course

  • The details of the murder and Claire and Paul's knowledge of it is revealed in this portion. How do their reactions to the crime differ? How are they the same? Do you agree with their decisions? Why or why not?
  • Paul looks back at the time of his diagnosis. He also remembers the time when Claire was hospitalized, and he struggled to take care of Michel. Why do you think the author chose to include these flashbacks? Do you think the event in which Paul struck Serge in front of Michel influenced Michel's behavior?

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