Lying Awake

Lying Awake Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Describe Sister John's dilemma. What are her options? Why does she choose the option she does? Would you have done the same? Why or why not?

    Sister John's dilemma is either to keep the visions, knowing that they are caused by epilepsy rather than being directly from God; or, to remove the tumor, which will stop the seizures, and again feel no connection to God. Though initially she makes the choice to remove the tumor out of not wanting to burden her fellow sisters in the monastery, she comes to realize that keeping the tumor would be a sign of selfishness rather than following God.

  2. 2

    How does Helen change after coming to the monastery?

    Instead of a dysfunctional family that has either passed away or abandoned her, Helen now has a family tied together in their vows to pursue God. She gets to know God. She leaves the world behind. She forgives her mother.

  3. 3

    Describe the other nuns in the monastery. What are they like? What are their strengths and weaknesses? How would you fit in to the monastery? Would you ever consider taking vows? Why or why not?

    Mother Mary Joseph is the Living Rule, nearly bent double with age. Tradition holds that, should the rules of the Carmelites be lost, one can rediscover them by watching a Living Rule pray. Sister Anne is the prickly one whose vocation to the sacristan requires the hardest work and most focus. Mother Emmanuel is the prioress. Together, they form a community in which they all play specific roles in order to grow closer to God and to each other.

  4. 4

    Describe Sister John's visions. Write a pastiche in which you give her one last vision, either before or after the surgery.

    In the first vision, she becomes like an ember, propelled through the air by an unseen flame. In the second, she freezes in beauty, as through she was a fly and was embedded in amber. In the third, her mind shatters, as though it were splintered glass. In the fourth (which is really the first, because it is the initial vision she gets that breaks her out of her drought), her mind feels like a mirror, and the silence in the room comes to life. In her final vision, she sees in her mind's eye the voices of the singing nuns like a rope with a hollow center woven into a tapestry that stretches across the world and backwards and forwards throughout time, lit up by the work of Christ...

  5. 5

    Not a lot happens in terms of action in Lying Awake. How does Salzman get his story across? How does he get the reader to feel sympathy toward the characters? How does he keep the reader's interest? Is he successful?

    Salzman is a master at matching his writing style and tone to the nature of the novel. Just as the action of the novel deals primarily with issues of the soul through the reflections and flashbacks of Sister John, Salzman keeps the reader's interest by getting him invested in Sister John's careful soul-searching. He makes her questions our questions--how do we experience God in our lives? Why do we follow Him or want to please Him? Do we love Him, or do we want His favors? These are questions people come back to over and again throughout history, and the way Salzman makes his characters explore these issues is captivating and heartwarming.