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  1. Book ImageMothers, Tell Your Daughters: Stories

    Bonnie Jo Campbell

    “Bonnie Jo Campbell is a master of rural America’s postindustrial landscape.” —Boston Globe

Watch: Bonnie Jo Campbell reads at the Kalamazoo Public Library

Discussion Questions

  1. Many women in these stories experience some sort of physical violence, trauma, or abuse, and a few go on to commit violent acts themselves. How do you think violence shapes these characters? In interviews, Bonnie Jo Campbell has said that she sees her characters as survivors rather than as victims. Is this an important distinction?
  2. In “Tell Yourself,” “Daughters of the Animal Kingdom,” and the title story, “Mothers, Tell Your Daughters,” we see mothers concerned that their daughters will make the same mistakes they made. Do you think certain female intergenerational struggles are destined to be repeated? Are there some that can be transcended?
  3. The female protagonists in Mothers, Tell Your Daughters continue to love the very men who have abused or betrayed them. How do they reconcile both aspects of their relationships?
  4. Many characters have complex relationships toward motherhood. How does motherhood shape their experiences? Does Campbell give any special insight into what it means to be a daughter?
  5. Does the author make us feel sympathy for characters who are difficult to like or understand? If so, how does she do this? For example, in the story “To You, as a Woman,” we see an example of very bad parenting.
  6. Mothers, Tell Your Daughters has first-, second-, and third-person narrations. How do you think these different voices influence the way we understand these stories?
  7. The stories take place in largely rural or postindustrial settings. How does location shape the lives of the characters? How does their level of education and economic status affect their lives?
  8. Sexual coming-of-age figures largely in many of the stories and leads many of Campbell’s women into trouble. How do the characters change in regards to innocence, power, and agency? What types of lessons do they learn?
  9. In the title story, “Mothers, Tell Your Daughters,” the narrator’s daughter is a professor of women’s studies and has perspectives that stand in opposition to her mother’s. Do you see differences between an academic perspective on women’s struggles compared to the points of view of Campbell’s characters?
  10. The women in Campbell’s stories have a diverse range of backgrounds. What aspects unite them?
  11. Though all the stories are told from a female point of view, they often center on contentious relationships with men. How might the stories be different if told from the men’s perspective?

About Bonnie Jo Campbell

Bonnie Jo Campbell teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Pacific University. The author of Once Upon a River and American Salvage, she lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Books by Bonnie Jo Campbell

  1. Book CoverAmerican Salvage

    Finalist for the 2009 National Book Award in Fiction
    Finalist for the 2009 National Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction
    “These short stories approach their subjects from an array of perspectives, but what they share is freshness, surprise, and a compulsion to plumb some absolute extremes of American existence.”—National Book Award citationMore

  2. Book CoverMothers, Tell Your Daughters: Stories

    “Bonnie Jo Campbell is a master of rural America’s postindustrial landscape.” —Boston GlobeMore

  3. Book CoverOnce Upon a River: A Novel

    “A demonstration of outstanding skills on the river of American literature.” —Entertainment WeeklyMore