Tropic of Cancer

Tropic of Cancer Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Analyze the ending of Tropic of Cancer in regards to Miller's relationship to the past.

    Potential Answer: This essay would trace the evolution Miller describes from his free-floating feeling of having broken entirely with the shackles of the past to the dawning realization (via Mona) that it isn't quite that simple. The novel's closing pages posit the Seine as a metaphor for the way in which the past can quietly flow through the present.

  2. 2

    Explore the theme of friendship in the novel. How does it play out, and what does Miller seem to be arguing?

    Possible Answer: For all its emphasis on sexual flings and love won and lost, Tropic of Cancer is, perhaps above all, a tale of male camaraderie. An essay would examine Miller's relationship to one or more of the following individuals: Boris, Carl, Van Norden, and Fillmore.

  3. 3

    Miller describes Walt Whitman as “that one lone figure America has produced in the course of her brief life.” Why?

    Possible Answer: Miller idolizes Whitman in this passage, arguing that he was a "MAN" first and foremost, and implying that his greatness lay in allowing his own personality and character to inform his writing. An essay could compare Whitman to Miller, teasing out the similarities (and also the differences) between these two quintessentially American writers.

  4. 4

    Analyze Paris as a character in the novel.

    Possible Answer: Miller goes so far as to compare Paris to a "whore." The city takes on human attributes in the novel; it has both flaws and merits, shortcomings and charms. One might pay particularly close attention to the passage concerning Mona, in which Paris seems a haunted - and haunting - presence, invoking memories and scattering them across Miller's path.

  5. 5

    Pick any major character in the novel, other than Miller himself, and analyze.

    Possible Answer: Tropic of Cancer is very much a character-driven novel, less plot-oriented than the traditional novel, less essayistic than the later Tropic of Capricorn. Much can be learned from focusing on a single character, such as Carl, with his shifts between consternation and jubilation, or Fillmore, who gropes without success for love.

  6. 6

    Does Miller want to return to America?

    Possible Answer: This may at first seem a simple question, but there is no easy answer. Miller writes of America with disdain during much of the novel, but then wonders at the end whether he should in fact return - as though Fillmore's escape has made the idea seem more appealing. Perhaps homesickness strikes even in paradise.

  7. 7

    Pick one scene of a sexually explicit nature and analyze it in the context of Miller's detractors' assertion that his work is mere pornography. Do you agree or disagree?

    Possible Answer: One of the key scenes to pick would be when Miller stares into a prostitute's vagina and sees nothing but a "zero." Other possibilities include the first time Miller sleeps with Germaine, the visit to the brothel with the young Indian man, and Fillmore's attempt to have sex with Macha.

  8. 8

    What is it about Germaine that appeals to Miller so deeply?

    Possible Answer: An essay on this subject might, whether implicitly or explicitly, pose the question of whether or not Miller is in fact in love with Germaine. Her directness is one of the obvious qualities that attract Miller to her, but there is something else, something ineffable, that draws him in.

  9. 9

    Discuss the style of Miller's prose. Pick three sentences to explicate as evidence for a thesis.

    Possible Answer: Miller's style is grandiloquent and riddled with puns and jokes; it reaches for the stars while laughing at itself for doing so. At times, however, it is deeply sincere and filled with compassion. For all its brittle and caustic mannerisms, Tropic of Cancer is a profoundly humanist work. These contrasting facets are reflected in the prose itself - in diction, syntax, rhythm, imagery, and tone.

  10. 10

    "I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive." Discuss.

    Possible Answer: This line comes near the beginning of the novel, and it bursts with confidence. Miller is poor and struggling, but so be it. The lack of a clear roadmap is invigorating. As the novel progresses, the freedom of this early line grows more complicated, more weighted down with other concerns.