ISL Homework Help
First, read the Afterword. It describes many themes you can develop into a paper. Then consider this list of potential book report / English / American Studies / Ethnic Studies / Sociology / Linguistics topics:
1. The Experience of Authenticity
Why does Daz reject the entertainment and consumer electronics industries as fundamentally inauthentic? What experience is he seeking which cannot be supplied by the manufactured "need" for new electronic gizmos and the passiveness inherent in video games and other "entertainment?"
2. American Identity I
What experiences make Daz and Alex's travels not just a cross-country trek but an exploration of their own identities?
3. American Identity II
What parts of Alex and Daz's adventures and reactions seem uniquely American?
4. American Identity III
How do Daz and Alex's mixed ethnicities affect their friendship and their experiences?
5. Loss and Renewal
Discuss the relationship between Daz and Old Man Ching as it relates to the themes of personal loss and renewal.
6. The Experience of Travel by Car
Driving together for weeks across country is radically unlike sharing a few hours' journey by plane; discuss the pressures and bonds of friendship which Daz and Alex experience as they share the cramped quarters of the Lancer.
7. Life Without Cell Phones
Alex accidentally (or perhaps not; we're not quite sure) runs over their cell phone on the second day of their trip; how do the guys react to this seemingly critical loss? How does this lack of communication affect their ties with their parents and friends? Speculate on why neither character feels much loss in the destruction of the phone.
When the Lancer breaks down, Daz says he will ask his parents for money to repair it. Yet he never makes that call; instead, the guys find work in Morris's auto repair shop. Discuss the theme of self-reliance as a thread of American character and as a theme of the story.
9. Travel and Personal Growth
Explore the notion that "deep travel"--that is, traveling not as a tourist but at a slower pace which enables temporary jobs and new friendships--feeds self-discovery and personal growth. Put another way: how have Daz and Alex grown or changed by the end of the story?
10. Rebels and Heroes
"The Rebel" and "The Hero" are staples of myths and other ancient stories from many cultural traditions. Compare and contrast Daz and Alex as rebels and heroes; could they each be a Hero or a Rebel at various times in the book?
11. Daz's Invented Vocabulary
Trace the linguistic roots of Daz's own words such as "strat," "tropo," and "gitas." Alternatively, compare Daz's use of Hawaiian Pidgin words such as "loco-moco" with their Pidgin meanings, and speculate on how he arrived at his own interpretations.
12. Skilled Labor
Daz and Alex seem drawn to manual labor, working under older, skilled craftsmen. Do you agree that skilled physical labor has fallen out of fashion in America? Why do Alex and Daz seem to thrive on this type of work, as opposed to working in an office or with computers?
13. The Play Within the Story
Daz and Alex take small parts in an off-off-Broadway play. What do you think this "play within a play" (or story within a story) means?
14. The Dual Meaning of I-State Lines
"I-State Lines" has two meanings in the book. Discuss both as themes of the story.
15. Alex and Hawaiian Identity
Alex gets into an argument with his cousin Tita about Hawaiian history and identity. Discuss his views in relation to actual Hawaiian history.
16. Economic Justice
Daz has very strong views on economic justice. Re-state his views and contrast them with the standard descriptions of capitalism and Marxism.
17. Violence in America
The guys have a variety of violent and near-violent encounters. Discuss how their experiences relate to your own experience of violence in America, and what the book is saying about violence in America.
18. Veterans and War
Daz and Alex meet a number of veterans of both the Vietnam and Desert wars. Describe your own encounters with vets, and relate them to Daz and Alex's experiences.
19. Romance and Love
Daz and Alex experience both romantic highs and lows. Are Daz's views of sex and romance different from your own, or different from the values you see depicted in movies, TV and advertisements? Do you agree with his views? Explain why.
20. Is ISL a Post-Post-Modern Book?
In a brief essay A Literary Look at I-State Lines, the author states that the novel is a post-post-modern novel. What do you think he means by this? Contrast the consistent voice of Daz with post-modern novels which consciously disrupt the traditional forms of the novel with multiple perspectives and non-linear narratives.
21. I-State Lines and the Traditional Novel
The traditional novel tells a plot-driven story in which the characters have something at stake which will be resolved at the end--solving a murder mystery, for instance, or finding their lost-lost sister. I-State Lines is not a traditional story in this sense, as it is not organized in a standard "three act" structure of setup-conflict/obstacle-resolution. Discuss how the novel is thematically driven as opposed to plot-driven, and how the conclusion is on based on the growth of the characters rather than a "tidily wrapped up" ending.
22. Dysfunction and Victimhood
Much of modern American fiction is based on tales of family or individual dysfunction and victimhood--drug addiction, childhood abuse, etc. Compare one of these standard tales of redemption (i.e. "I was a drug-addled gangster but now I'm redeemed") with the episodic stories of I-State Lines, all of which avoid the cliches of being a victim of dysfunction or the criminal justice system. Discuss the contrivances at the heart of tales of redemption, and whether you find the stories Daz tells to be more or less realistic than the carefully constructed stories of sordid dysfunction redeemed.
You may come up with a topic not listed here; if so, please email me the title so I can add it to the list.
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