Reading Group Guide
Reading Group Guide for The Wife by Meg Wolitzer
1. After attempting her first short story in the library stacks at Smith College, Joan, the protagonist of The Wife, imagines "what it was like to be a writer: Even with the eyes closed, you could see" (p.46). Explain how this observation could also be made of wives. What does Joan see even when other people think her eyes are closed?
2. In Chapter Two, Joan meets the writer Elaine Mozell who warns Joan against trying to get the attention of the literary men's club. How might Joan's life have been different without Elaine's discouraging advice haunting her?
3. On a trip to Vietnam with Joe, Joan finds herself on an airstrip, in a segregated clump, with the wives. But Lee, the famous female journalist, chats with the men. Joan laments to herself "I shouldn't be here! I wanted to cry. I'm not like the rest of them!" (p.134) How is Joan different from the rest of the wives who appear throughout the novel? In what ways is she similar?
4. Joe's friend, Harry Jacklin, praises Joe's work, telling him, "You've got that extra gene, that sensitivity toward women" s (p. 25). Indeed, we discover that Joe's "sensitivity" is primarily thanks to his wife. How do you think Joan would have been received in the literary world if her name had been attached to the same material? Do you think she would have been as successful?
5. After Joe receives the call confirming he has won the Helsinki Prize, Joan envisions the days ahead, realizing that "I wasn't going to handle this well; it would inflame me with the worst kind of envy" (p. 37). Discuss envy, regret and loss with respect to Joan's choices regarding her writing career.
6. Over the years, many people come to admire Joan for her steely resolve in the face of blatant betrayal and infidelity. Is Joan, in fact, an admirable character? Why do you think Joan waits so long to decide to leave Joe?
7. There is a lot of talk from the women about "The Men." Specifically, Joan describes Joe as "one of those men who own the world" (p. 10), and Elaine Mozell harbors contempt for the men who conspire to "keep the women's voices hushed and tiny..." (p.53). What is your opinion of Joe and the men he represents? Considering that the reader sees him through the eyes of his wife, do you think he is presented fairly?
8. On being a wife, Joan admits: "I liked the role at first, assessed the power it contained, which for some reason many people don't see, but it's there" (p.119). Discuss the quiet power of wives, particularly during the late fifties when Joan is initiated into wifehood. Do you think the power wives wield is more visible today?
9. Towards the end of the novel, Joan reveals the secret that she and Joe long shared about his career. Joan acknowledges that, among others, her "children, each in their own separate ways, had suspicions" (p. 201). As a reader, are you surprised by Joan's revelation or does Joe's sudden merit as a writer seem suspect? What clues support your hunch?
10. At one point their children David and Alice go so far as to confront both Joan and Joe about their secret. Do you think the children are convinced by Joan's staunch denial? If Joan were your mother, would you be disappointed or proud of her?