Everything is Illuminated

Everything is Illuminated Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Throughout the novel, fantasy and reality are convoluted and conflated. How does this situation affect the way we interpret the story? Do we read the book differently the second time? Does Foer portray fantasy in a positive or negative light at different points in the book?

  2. 2

    Many major and minor questions in this novel go unresolved. How does the presence of mystery affect the story?

  3. 3

    Describe how Foer's "collage" writing style and typography affect the way we perceive the story. What do these devices signify about the novel or about Foer's perspective on writing?

  4. 4

    Is there anything unusual about the way Jews during the Holocaust are portrayed in this novel, compared with other classic accounts?

  5. 5

    How do cultural differences bring pairs of characters together or keep them apart? Do attempts to come together or remain separate succeed?

  6. 6

    How are love and violence interwoven through the novel, and how do these links illuminate our understanding of these concepts?

  7. 7

    Explain the title of the novel, Everything is Illuminated. What is "everything," and how and when is it illuminated? For whom is everything illuinated? What is the force that enlightens, and is there anyone or anything guiding it?

  8. 8

    To what extent is Jonathan Safran Foer, the author of this novel, different from Jonathan Safran Foer, the character? Is there a third Jonathan in the character's presentation of himself to others in the novel? Why might these distinctions be important or irrelevant?

  9. 9

    The novel includes many written documents: The Book of Recurrent Dreams, The Book of Antecedents, Safran's journal, Jonathan's diary. Do the events of the novel bear out the townspeople's reasons for keeping records? For what other reasons are records and memory important? Does it matter if anyone ever finds them? Are they more for the writer or the reader, for insiders or outsiders?

  10. 10

    What is the purpose of giving Alex such a strong voice in the novel? How does his development as a person and as a writer reflect broader patterns in the novel?

  11. 11

    What role do comedy and whimsy play in this novel? Are they integral to the story throughout, or do they wax and wane depending on the seriousness of the subject matter? Should they be banned from the most tragic scenes as inappropriate, or do they help put tragedy in perspective and give us a way to come to terms with tragedy? Does the humor of the opening chapters persist to the end?

  12. 12

    How is forgiveness treated in the novel? How is it important? What is its purpose?

  13. 13

    Why do so many of the characters in the novel, including Jonathan, fail to find the things for which they are searching?

  14. 14

    What role does chance play in the novel? From the evidence in the text, to what degree do we control our own lives and history? Is this a good text for examining general themes about agency, chance, and fate, or do we do injustice to an idiosyncratic narrative by looking for overbroad themes?