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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

The Woman and the Ape

1. Erasmus informs Madelene that where he comes from, his kind are called "people" and hers "animals." In what ways throughout the book does Høeg project the notion that animals are more like people and people more like animals?

2. Madelene comes from Denmark, where the "very atmosphere was crystalline and under constant threat of shattering and no voice was ever raised above a whisper for fear of starting an avalanche." In what ways are Erasmus and Madelene more similar than different? Do you feel they are held together more by their commonalities or differences? What do you think Høeg is saying about the relationship between humans and animals?

3. Discuss Madelene's "resurrection" every morning. Why is it necessary? How is this resurrection different by the end of the book?

4.When the public learned that Erasmus was not the only highly intelligent talking ape in their midst, "the nation froze and ground to a halt. Every visible human activity ceased, even crime came to a standstill, paralyzed by a fear greater than greed." How do you account for that kind of reaction?

5. Describe instances, images, and/or metaphors throughout the book in which Høeg expresses feelings of confinement and captivity.

6. Where do you find Høeg's images of civilization and paradise? Is it possible for the two to coexist?

7. Near the end of the novel, Dr. Bowen confides that, according to Erasmus' DNA analysis, "We had it all wrong. Burden, his sister and I. We thought we would learn something about one of those hominids which came before man. But you are not what went before. If anything, you are what comes afterward." What do you think Høeg is saying about human evolution?

8. In the novel, the scientific world of animal research is portrayed as cruel, exploitative, and tortuous. Where does thirst for knowledge end and brutality towards animals begin? When, if at all, can zoological institutions be justified? Can animal research for human "well being" be justified?  

The Woman and the Ape
by Peter Høeg

  • Publication Date: September 1, 1997
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics)
  • ISBN-10: 0140268448
  • ISBN-13: 9780140268447