Here’s a list of questions and discussion topics for the novella Hanger Stout, Awake! This study guide is saved and being maintained in Google Docs and is available as a free download. (In Google Docs, you also save it as a PDF and DOC file). If you have additional suggestions about this study guide, feel free to comment here or send me an email (idiotprogrammer at gmail.com).
Hanger teacher guide
Hanger Stout Awake is an ideal book for high school and college age students because it presents the perspective of someone starting to realize what it means to be and think like an adult. Here are some questions to think about after reading this book.
About the Character of Clyde (Hanger) Stout
Do you think Hanger judges people according to the car they drive? Is this fair? Does the choice of car tell a person anything about the personality of the driver?
What kinds of brand name associations do people use (rightly or wrongly) to categorize people?
Talk about Hanger’s car (the 1956 Chevy). Do some research to get a feel for what kind of car it was during its heyday. What is Hanger’s relationship to this car? (Note: The author’s site contains a photo gallery of all the cars mentioned in this novella. )
Why do you think Hanger likes to hang out at Mr. Rigolo’s junkyard so much? What does he accomplish there? What kinds of hangouts exist for people of Hanger’s age today?
Why do you suppose Hanger keeps writing Penny even though they have broken up? Would the novel be different if it included scenes with Penny? Do you think the novel is worse or better as a result?
Is Hanger a “deep” person?
Is there anything special or extraordinary about Hanger’s personality? Why or why not? Do you see any actual or potential character flaws?
Do you think Clyde knew that the contest would probably have a disappointing outcome? If yes, why do you think he did it anyway?
You are Hanger’s neighbor. Give him some advice.
What is Hanger’s attitude toward older adults who are dispensing advice to him? Do you think he basically accepts almost all the things adults around him say?
Phyllis thinks that Hanger has a big influence over his mother. Is she exaggerating? How do you think a child’s presence affects the way a parent views the world?
Write a short “sequel” to this novella using Hanger’s same voice. Either make it a year after the novel ends or choose a time period 20 years later.
Comparing time periods
As depicted by this novel, the time period described has three important differences from contemporary times. First, many male teens were drafted into the army, and second, in the 1960s, college enrollment rates were about 45% (compared to 65-70% today). Thirdly, there was no Internet (obviously). Do you think these historical differences dramatically changed youth culture and the way people grew up?
If Hanger were a teenager in this decade, do you think his personality or attitude would make him ill-suited to the times?
At some point throughout the novel, Hanger learns that he has been drafted into the army. Unlike war novels such as Farewell to Arms and All Quiet On the Western Front, this novel barely touches upon the gruesome subject of war or even the politics of the Vietnam War itself. Why does the book avoid such matters? Do you think the novel is making any kind of statement about the soldier’s life or serving one’s country?
The Work as a Whole
While you were reading the novel, did you have any expectations about the overall outcome of the novel? In what way were your expectations subverted or changed? (Did it leave you — hanging?)
Has Hanger changed a lot inside by the end of the novel? Has he arrived at any real insights about his condition?
What is the final feeling that the novel leaves you with?
Style and Tone
Some might say that using too many pop culture references (such as cars) in a literary work makes it go out of date more quickly. Do you agree? Did you find these kinds of details to be distracting or colorful?
Compare and contrast Hanger’s inner voice with that of other narrators in novels by Hemingway or J.D. Salinger. How is Hanger similar or different?
Many novels have recognizable conflicts and themes, but Hanger has a certain aimlessness. Can you think of any other novels that share this mode? How can a novel like Hanger present this sense of aimlessness without boring the reader?
Novels about growing up tend to be about loss of innocence or just about how a naive person struggles towards maturity. Can you think of ways in which this novella differs from other books about growing up?
Probably the three dominant motifs in Hanger are cars, junkyards and “hanging.” Explain the importance of one of these motifs and how they relate to the novella’s overall theme.
Breaking Away is an Academy award winning 1977 movie about a boy who after graduating from high school, becomes obsessed with competitive cycling. His parents want him to think about his future; instead he and his friends enter a local bike race to show up the guys at the nearby university.
Engines of change : a history of the American dream in fifteen cars by Paul Ingrassia. (2012). A business writer describes how the marketing of cars and people’s tastes have changed over the decades.
The Charisma Campaigns. by Jack Matthews. (Also, Beyond the Bridge). This novel (written a few years later than this one) describes the life of a charismatic car salesman. Matthews has described Charisma Campaigns, Hanger Stout and Beyond the Bridge as a sort of trilogy representing the 1950s to early 1970s.
Interview with Jack Matthews 2009. Published online and reprinted on the author’s website Mr. Matthews talks briefly about the novel.