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Claire Messud, The Emperor's Children (Part 2)


  1. How are we supposed to read these characters? Are we meant to sympathize with them or roll our eyes at them? The question of Messud's audience is a related one. Who is her ideal audience? Is this book, written by a woman who considers herself to simultaneously occupy an insider's and outsider's perspective to this social milieu, intended to cause those who are party to that world to cringe or to incite those who are decidedly shut out of this world to outrage at its callous attitude towards privilege, or both? How are readers' reception of the novel affected by their perception of themselves as insiders or outsiders in relation to the characters?


  1. How does September 11th function in the novel? Does the event change or affect the characters in any substantial way? If not, is Messud using September 11th to critique this Manhattanite culture? In other words, are we meant to read their reactions in a critical way?


  1. The chapters of The Emperor's Children bounce around among different focalizers. However, certain characters never act as focalizers, and we are left to imagine what their points of view might entail. For example, we are privy to one chapter of Aurora's perspective, but DeVaughn remains a mystery. What are the reasons Messud may have chosen not to give us a window into the minds of Ludovic, Annabel, and David?


  2. Most summaries and blurbs identify Danielle, Marina, and Julius as the three main characters around which the plot revolves, but Julius in many ways is more tangential than the other two. Fewer chapters utilize him as a focalizer, and he is not as heavily involved in the Thwaite family as his friends. On top of that, one could argue (as Ruth Elizabeth has in her character analysis of Julius) that both he and David are stereotypes of gay men in New York. How fleshed out is his character? What does he add to the novel? Do he and David represent more than stereotypes? Does Messud fetishize gayness?


  3. While we are on the subject of David... I found that the way in which his and Julius's relationship ended was shocking and emotionally engaging, and in that respect served as almost more of a climax of the novel than 9/11 did. Why does their relationship end so violently? What purpose does the scene serve, what is it doing for the novel?


  4. Towards the end of the book, Danielle has the realization that Annabel, whom she had dismissed or pitied as a peripheral party to Murray and Marina's relationship, is actually “The Family incarnate” (369). How believable is that sentiment? How satisfying is her response to the revelation of Murray's deceit? Does she embody the stock character of the responsible wife to the doofy husband? How is her “motherness” portrayed? To zoom out, one could argue that the female characters are largely defined by their relationships to men: Annabel fulfills a hybrid role of wife and mother for Murray, Danielle is the other woman, and Marina finds her voice by leaving Murray's orbit for Ludovic's. Is there a feminist reading of this novel?