The Great Alone discussion questions

  1. Hannah said, “I didn’t really realize until I did the research what a turbulent time it was with the hijackings, and the kidnappings, and the bombings, and all of this. The more research I did about the ’70s, the more it felt relevant to today — like the world was as unsettled then as it sometimes feels now.” How did the setting contribute to the overall story? Could this story have taken place in a different time?
  2. Alaska is a land full of danger. Large Marge tells the Allbright family, “Up here you can make one mistake. The second one will kill you.” Could this story have taken place in any other setting? (Related: what does Hannah mean when she says “Leni was Matthew’s second mistake?” on p. 310?)
  3. In The Great Alone, Hannah says that a lot of people in Alaska are either running to something or running away from something. Who do you see on the run in this story? What are they running away from? What are they running towards?
  4. Would the Allbright women have been as isolated and alone anywhere else? Is it possible Alaska enabled them to belong in a way they might not have elsewhere? Explain.
  5. Hannah tackles domestic violence head-on in this book. How did you feel reading Cora’s story, and how did you feel about her and the choices she made? Did her choices seem believable to you? Why did she choose to stay with Ernt, and what propelled her to finally leave?
  6. Were the challenges of life in Alaska what caused Ernt to break down, or was it his experiences in Vietnam? Was he likely violent before, or did the PTSD bring it out in him? Are these questions even ours to ask? Do the answers matter?
  7. Leni escapes to literature (Watership Down, The Outsiders, The Thorn Birds, Lord of the Rings, and others are all mentioned). She says in her college essay that she needed the “faraway worlds” she found in the pages (p. 241). What do they represent to her, and why did she seek them out?
  8. Did you think Cora and Leni would eventually escape Ernt? At whose hand did you think they’d finally escape? Were Cora’s actions justified?
  9. What do you see as the central love story in The Great Alone—Leni and Matthew, Cora and Leni, Leni and Alaska?
  10. What do you think about the way Hannah chose to end the book? Did she end it in the right place, to your way of thinking? Did you find the ending satisfying?

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