The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough - Book Review

The Thorn Birds

What is critical literacy? What does it mean to read critically?
Search it up and you’ll find lots of definitions on critical literacy. To simplify things for you, this means to look at the texts more closely and from various perspectives. If you read a text, you understand it and you are able to summarize it – that’s reading. However, if you read the text and ask questions to understand or reveal deeper meanings, then you’re reading critically. To read critically means to question. For example: What kind of language is the author using here? Does it reveal something about the character or the plot? Who is the narrator? Although I’m reading a story, I know it’s not just a story. Can I make a text-to-world connection here? Is there a hidden message in this text? What is the author telling us about politics, race, gender issues, etc.? – Questions like these will get you thinking about the broader picture and that is a part of critical literacy

If you’re looking for a summary of this great text, you can find it online. In this brief analysis I’m going to focus more on critical literacy and show you how I engage with texts when I read critically.  Let’s say you’re writing an essay and you wish to write about the use of irony in the text, or about a theme discussed in the novel. Whatever you decide to write about, you’ll have to ask questions.  How do you start? Let’s see!  

Some Book Discussion Questions to think about

While reading the book, I kept thinking about “torn” as “torn apart”. I enjoyed it, especially the first part of the novel which is about Meggie’s childhood. It’s entertaining and keeps the reader engaged; however, it’s also very interesting because it discusses popular themes such as family, relationships, commitment, religion, growing up, etc.

Suggested Theme Topic: In this novel, McCullough suggests that women have an extraordinary amount of tolerance and exceptional ability to endure sufferings for the well-being of others: their parents, siblings, lovers, and finally, their children.

Plot: I didn’t like the last two chapters of the book: Justine and Dane. It very closely mimics the first half of the story, so I could have done without the repetition. I do, however, recommend the book.

Text to Text connection

Is there another text that The Thorn Birds reminds you of? Explain.

Does Meggie remind you of any other character (from other books perhaps)? How so?

Text to Self connection

Do any of the characters in The Thorn Birds remind you of yourself or someone you know? In what way?

Have you ever been in a situation when you had to sacrifice what is most important to you for the well-being of others? How did it feel?

Other discussion questions:

On Character Analysis and some themes (parenting, sacrifice, relationships, growing up and old age)

What do you think of Fee and Paddy Cleary as parents?

Is Fee a better parent than her own father? Explain.

Do Fee and Paddy treat all their kids the same way?

This story takes place between 1915 and 1969. Do you think that Fee’s and Paddy’s behaviour directly reflects beliefs and practices of the 20th century? Explain.

What is the role of women in the text? Do you think it’s different from the way we view women today? Explain.

What are some stereotypes of aging that are present in this novel?

How does Mary Carson challenge those stereotypes?

Why does Meggie feel rejected by Fee?

Is there anything from Fee’s past that suggests she might become alienated or detached as a parent?

What is Fee’s justification of her unfair treatment of Meggie?

Do Fee and Meggie ever reconcile? How does their relationship change as the story develops?

According to Ralph, what is his greatest sin?

What do YOU think is Ralph’s greatest sin?

What are some indicators that Ralph will not leave church for Meggie?

How do you think Meggie’s treatment of Justine affects Justine’s relationship with other people?

Who is the most unpredictable character in the novel? Explain.

“The bird with the thorn in its breast, it follows an immutable law; it is driven by it knows not what to impale itself, and die singing. At the very instant the thorn enters there is no awareness in it of the dying to come; it simply sings and sings until there is not the life left to utter another note. But we, when we put the thorns in our breasts, we know. We understand. And still we do it. Still we do it.”

How do you interpret this excerpt? What does it mean to you?