(by Jonathan Safran Foer)
Topics for Between Shades of Gray
by Ruta Sepetys
Topics for Between Shades of Gray
If you choose to write an essay for your all-school read project, write a 500-700 word, multi-paragraph essay on one of these topics. First, label your answer clearly by including the topic. Then begin your essay with an introduction that leads to a thesis statement. Your body paragraphs should have discernible topics as well and should be well-organized with details and evidence from the book to support your points.
1. The novel suggests that the will to survive goes beyond the physical, that a spiritual component is as much a part of being alive as food and shelter. Explain the scenes that show how the characters nurtured their spiritual and psychological needs. Consider family connections, memories, specific acts of kindness, letter writing, traditions, music, etcetera.
2. As Lina’s family is first placed in the truck to take them to the trains, they meet the bald man, Mr. Stalas, who proclaims loudly, “We’re all going to die. We will surely die” (22). Write an essay that analyzes Mr. Stalas’s role in the novel as a fatalistic, pessimistic, and needy character living in a community of people trying to survive through hope and cooperation. Is he utterly unsympathetic, without any redeeming qualities? Why did Sepetys make him so complicated and hard to grasp?
3. Write a persuasive essay in which you argue the moral complications for the Lithuanian deportees in signing or not signing the NKVD’s confession papers. Is there an absolute right or wrong in this situation? Consider the experiences of Lina and her family and friends as well as those who signed. Use textual evidence to provide specific examples to support your case.
4. Analyze Lina as the first-person narrator of the novel. Why is her perspective effective in portraying the alternating layers of horror, degradation, love, and compassion in this story? You will need to analyze her characteristics to explain how her perspective creates various themes such as the will to survive, doing what’s right, and the importance of family.
5. Andrius and Kretzsky might be interpreted as foils for one another in the novel. How are these two characters different from each other? Are there any similarities that emerge as Kretzsky’s character becomes more complex? How does Sepetys use each of them to create different themes and to create complications and crises that drive the story?
6. Discuss the role that art plays in the novel. Lina, a young artist, constantly draws for both for practical reasons and for her own enrichment or sanity. Include a discussion of Lina’s favorite artist, the Norwegian symbolist/expressionist Edvard Munch, in understanding Lina’s view of art’s importance to civilization. Conclude your answer by commenting on the way other oppressed peoples have used art to endure their hardships.
7. Write an essay that explains the importance of understanding the historical context of the Stalinist system to a full understanding of the story. Connect episodes in the book with some of these events or topics: a. Stalin’s Purges, 1929–38; b. Collectivization in the USSR; c. The Cheka/NKVD and State Terror; d. Cultural Life in the USSR under Stalin; e. The Five-Year Plans; f. America’s Lend/Lease Acts and the USSR; g. Forced/Coercive Labor in the USSR; h. Soviet Intellectuals in the Stalinist Era.