Here are some questions to consider when reading Tommy Orange's There There.
1. The prologue provides a historical overview of how Native populations were systematically stripped of their identity, rights, land, etc. by colonialist forces in America. How does the prologue set the tone for the reader? Discuss the use of the Indian head as iconography. How does this relate to the erasure of Native identity in American culture?
2. "Getting us to cities was supposed to be the final, necessary step in our assimilation, absorption, erasure, the completion of a five-hundred-year-old genocidal campaign. But the city made us new, and we made it ours."
Discuss the development of the “Urban Indian” identity and ownership of that label. How does it relate to the push for assimilation by the United States government? How do the characters navigate this modern form of identity alongside their ancestral roots?
3. Consider the following statement from page 9: “We stayed because the city sounds like a war, and you can’t leave a war once you’ve been, you can only keep it at bay.” In what ways does the historical precedent for violent removal of Native populations filter into the modern era? How does violence—both internal and external—appear throughout the narrative? How has violent removal of Native populations contributed to contemporary white privilege?
4. On page 7, Orange states: “We’ve been defined by everyone else and continue to be slandered despite easy-to-look-up-on-the-internet facts about the realities of our histories and current state as a people.” Discuss this statement in relation to how Native populations have been defined in popular culture. How do the characters resist the simplification and flattening of their cultural identity? Relate the idea of preserving cultural identity to Dene Oxendene’s storytelling mission.
5. The occupation of Alcatraz is often romanticized in history, but for many, the reality was very stressful and traumatic. Describe the resettlement efforts at Alcatraz. What were the goals for inhabiting this land? What vision did Opal and Jacquie’s mother have for her family in moving to Alcatraz? What were the realities they experienced? For background, take a look at the video "We Hold the Rock" about the occupation of Alcatraz.
6. On page 58, Opal’s mother tells her that she needs to honor her people “by living right, by telling our stories. [That] the world was made of stories, nothing else, and stories about stories.” How does this emphasis on storytelling function throughout There There? Consider the relationship between storytelling and power. How does storytelling allow for diverse narratives to emerge? What is the relationship between storytelling and historical memory?
7. On page 77, Edwin Black asserts, “The problem with Indigenous art in general is that it’s stuck in the past.” How does the tension between modernity and tradition emerge throughout the narrative? Which characters seek to find a balance between honoring the past and looking toward the future? When is the attempt to do so successful?
8. How is the city of Oakland characterized in the novel? How does the city’s gentrification affect the novel’s characters and their attitudes toward home and stability?
9. Discuss the Interlude that occurs on pages 134–41. What is the importance of this section? How does it provide key contextual information for the Big Oakland PowWow that occurs at the end of the novel? What is the author trying to say about historical violence, mass shootings and America's relationship with firearms in general?
10. Examine the use of unchecked technology. i.e. 3D printing guns, drones, internet addiction, social media, etc. How does this tie into urban Native identity? How does this tie into larger societal issues?
Bonus Questions: What was the most surprising element of the novel to you? What was its moment of greatest impact?