a d a m    b e n f o r a d o

Thomas Hadleyís Personalized
Reading Response Questions on "A Profound Melancholy"
by Eugene Finnegan


1.  The character of Rogier has been described by the critic Henry Tilson as "a modern-day Prometheus—stealing bread so that his family may eat, but metaphorically, grasping out for the knowledge and experience of the landed elite." Would you consider Thomasís English Muffins a type of bread? Why is your mother continually buying the kind with raisons in them when you specifically told her that you hated Raison Bran? Why is she unable to make the connection? Does she honestly think that you dislike bran?

2.  What does "the blue box" symbolize on page 31? Is this a reference to Lillyís barren womb? Her frigid demeanor upon first meeting Rogier? Is this a case of art mirroring life since your own girlfriend refuses to go farther than "third base"?

3.  Is it significant that Rogier is a shoemaker? How does the construction of a shoe, detailed in the opening pages, seem to reflect the burgeoning love affair between Rogier and Lilly? What if, instead of a "boot of finest leather," it had been a pair of Velcro boat shoes like the ones you are wearing? They are pretty hip, but donít you think they fell down a notch as soon as Donna Milstein picked up a pair? Why are people always copying you (granted you are pretty popular)?

4.  Consider the poem Mrs. Boxster delivers at Lillyís 18th birthday party. How does Mrs. Boxster see her relationship to Lilly? Compare to the relationship between Sally and Clarissa in Mrs. Dalloway. If Mrs. Boxster and Lilly were to start getting it on, would you, Thomas, like to join in on the girl-on-girl action?

5.  What ultimately forces Lilly to give up her aristocratic identity? Is it her love of Rogier or her hatred of Mrs. Boxster? Is it wrong to hate Annie because her dad bought her a Porsche Boxster for her sweet sixteen? I mean, itís not her fault sheís rich as shit. Okay, fine. Is it wrong to hate Annie because she wonít let you take the Boxster for a spin around the block?

6.  On his deathbed Rogier declares that one "exists only to exist." What does this statement suggest about the nature of human suffering in light of the fact that rearranging the letters in "exists" gives you "sexist"? Or "sit sex"? And, considering the phrase as a whole, where do you fit the "I" in "oxen sex toy stilts"?

7.  At the very end of the story Lilly remarks that, "It is the small things of the past that make all the difference in the present. With a hundred roses, I never saw the beauty of a single petal." Is this a signal that her view of the world has changed significantly or is this just the author whacking off a little more (like he hasnít done enough of that already)? Doesnít your hand get tired, my good sir? Honestly, why canít the 10th grade read anything decent? Would it be so hard to find a book that didnít involve women in long dresses worrying about marrying below their station?

8.  After finally becoming pregnant, why is Lilly so frightened that her first child will be deformed? Why do Rogierís reassurances fail to alleviate her worries? Why canít a man and a monkey make a baby? I wonder if a man and a Neanderthal could do it. Would that be considered having sex with an animal? Would it be against the law if there were still Neanderthals roaming around? If so, wouldnít that be racist? Where do you draw the line?

9.  When Rogier is caught by the shopkeeper stealing a "firm brown loaf," he is given two options: work off his debt or be handed over to the authorities. Wasnít it great when Mr. Finley read that section and everyone laughed when he said "firm brown loaf"? Did you see how Finley almost cracked a smile? Man, just imagine if Jonathan had let out that huge fart like he said he almost did; class might have been canceled for a week.

10.  How would "A Profound Melancholy" be different if the setting was changed? Can the themes that Finnegan weaves into his narrative be translated to modern America? What do you think Finnegan might have to say about capitalist culture? Consider gummy bears, dildos, and Magic 8 Balls.

11.  During their dramatic confrontation, Lilly, in a fit of rage, tells Mrs. Boxster that "[t]here are only two kinds of people in the world: seeds and sparrows." Choose a character from the story and write an essay explaining why he or she is a "seed" or a "sparrow." Then draw a picture of a sparrow. Then a picture of Mr. Finley underneath. Then a white glob falling swiftly to the target.



ADAM BENFORADO is a Knox Fellow with the Cambridge Faculty of Law. His writing has appeared in a diverse mix of publications from newspapers and magazines (Boston Review, Baltimore Sun, Boston Globe) to academic journals (Maryland Law Review, Emory Law Journal, Crustaceana) to literary journals (Zafusy, Circle, Cricket Online Review). New work is forthcoming in the New Hampshire Review, and the Café Irreal.