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 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 Do you think he should have withdrawn from the race?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?
Part 4: Dessert
- Serge and Babette discuss with Paul and Claire the crime their boys committed together. They disagree on the actions going forward. Which set of parents do you think is right? Explain your answer fully and support your claim.
- Claire makes a call to Michel to provide him an alibi while he attempts to silence Beau. Why does she take such drastic action? Do you think that Michel does what she asked him to do? Why or why not?
Part 5: Digestif
- Another memory segment is included in this section when Paul thinks back to helping Michel with a capital punishment assignment at school. What are some reasons the author may have included this segment in the novel?
- Paul admits he has stopped taking his medication. Consider his actions throughout the novel and identify warning signs that he may be having a relapse in his mental health.
- Did you expect Claire to be the one to cause harm to Serge? Why or why not?
Questions about Theme
- Crime and technology collide in this novel. Discuss the moral and ethical concerns of posting material online. Should punishments be doled out based solely on internet evidence? Why or why not?
- Loyalty is an undercurrent of the parent-child relationships in this novel. What actions do Paul and Claire take to protect their son Michel? What do Serge and Babette decide to do to help their son Rick? Do you agree or disagree with these actions? Explain fully.
- Mental health runs through much of this novel. How does Paul's mental health influence the events of the story? How does it affect his family members? Do you think that Michel or Claire have mental health difficulties, as well? Explain your reasoning.
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