What's Eating Gilbert Grape

What's Eating Gilbert Grape

Just about everything in Endora, Iowa (pop. 1,091 and dwindling) is eating Gilbert Grape, a twenty-four-year-old grocery clerk who dreams only of leaving. His enormous mother, once the town sweetheart, has been eating nonstop ever since her husband's suicide, and the floor beneath her TV chair is threatening to cave in. Gilbert's long-suffering older sister, Amy, still mourns the death of Elvis, and his knockout younger sister has become hooked on makeup, boys, and Jesus -- in that order. But the biggest event on the horizon for all the Grapes is the eighteenth birthday of Gilbert's younger brother, Arnie, who is a living miracle just for having survived so long. As the Grapes gather in Endora, a mysterious beauty glides through town on a bicycle and rides circles around Gilbert, until he begins to see a new vision of his family and himself....
With this wry portrait of small-town Iowa -- and a young man's life at the crossroads -- Peter Hedges created a classic American novel "charged with sardonic intelligence" (Washington Post Book World).
  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 336 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780671038540 | 
  • November 1999
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Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide
The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for discussion for Peter Hedges's What's Eating Gilbert Grape?. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
  1. In the first chapter, Arnie Grape tells Gilbert, "You're getting littler and littler. You're shrinking." "Stupid people sometimes say the smartest things," Gilbert reflects. With this exchange, what themes does Peter Hedges begin to develop in his novel? How is Gilbert shrinking?
  2. Consider the nature of Gilbert's relationship with Becky alongside his relationship with Mrs. Carver. What do these characters mean to Gilbert? Do they present him with the same possibilities for escape, love, and healing? Explain.
  3. Remembered chiefly for his relentless "optimism," Albert Grape nevertheless hung himself in his basement. How might this irony persist in Gilbert's own life, particularly in his relationship with his boss, Mr. Lamson? Throughout the novel, what does Gilbert reveal to us about his father? What sort of legacy has Albert left his son?
  4. Unlike Amy and Gilbert, who have stayed behind to take care of Momma and Arnie, Larry and Janice have managed to escape, at least physically and geographically. What significance lies in Hedges' decision to make Janice an airline stewardess, a job that requires perpetu
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About the Author

Peter Hedges

Peter Hedges, the author of What's Eating Gilbert Grape, grew up in West Des Moines, Iowa.