The Purpose of Stories
Stories have a multitude of purposes. Entertainment, escape, enrichment, and enlightenment are among the excellent reasons to love stories and myths. This page is designed to assist educators who might pick up Out of the Basement for students and book clubs looking for questions and/or ideas to guide discussions.
Themes to consider in Out of the Basement
- The Transformative Power of Art and Music
We are, as Jungian educator and writer Carol Pearson taught, story telling creatures. Stories bind us together and build understanding. It’s one of the reasons we love it when grandpa tells the same story for the 100th time…it’s part of our story! When others open their stories to us it is a way of sharing their souls. Music and art are part of these stories. They can inspire, uplift, and propel us on a quest to build up and share our humanity. When life has dropped us to our knees it is not the principles laid out in the Pythagorean theorem or the scientific certainty of the equation Force = Mass x Acceleration that helps us get up and rejoin the fight. But that lyric, that music, that line from the book, movie, or play, or that inspirational image we hold dear that often gets us moving again. In Out of the Basement it is primarily the power of Bruce Springsteen’s music that protagonist Michael Tanner draws strength from, but other sources are present as well!
2. The Only Way Out is Through
Once we get moving, where do we go? There are many paths available, but only one provides true healing and the possibility of greatest growth, and that’s the path through out greatest pain and fears. Bypassing that confrontation does not heal…it causes one to live in a state of avoidance and denial. The bypass may seem better, but it just leaves you weaker in the long run. It’s why Luke had to confront Darth Vader and Simba needed to stand before Scar. For Michael Tanner this path is symbolized by psychological door he must find the strength to open. This door imagery is brilliantly captured on the cover of Out of the Basement, designed by Mumtaz Mustafa.
3. The Power of True Friendship
Opening the door can seem terrifying. The demons behind it appear too powerful to overcome. The faith, hope, strength, and support of true friends can help us step into the ring. The sage Confucius once noted it is difficult to find people who celebrate our successes without feeling jealous. But when you find them…what a blessing! Michael Tanner has such friends and I hope you do too.
4. The Necessity of the Open Heart and Mind
This is not, to be clear, a call to be open minded in the way I often experience the phrase. I am often amazed how many people gauge the open mindedness of others on how much the other person agrees with them. I often feel saddened by the “openminded” around me who merely reek of superiority and demand their opinion is the right one. This is not the openness I am discussing.
Rather, be open to the idea that healing needs to happen and open to assistance along the way. Do you consider yourself strong enough to wrestle your demons? What if you were open to that idea? Are you open to the idea that you will be knocked to the ground by life and you…yes you…have the ability to get up and fight again? Are you open to learning new strategies and finding new strength? When the open heart and mind is utilized to build oneself and, by extension, one’s community, up it is a powerful weapon! Maybe that’s why the ego uses the verbiage of the open heart to create self-centeredness…if you’re open to that idea.
5. The Hidden Value of the Past
Various epigraphs introduce chapters in Out of the Basement. They are utilized for various reasons. One is to reveal how Michael Tanner is inspired by people in the past and how they strove to overcome obstacles and find hope in the darkness. Suffering will always be part of the human condition, but so is overcoming. So is fighting the good fight with all thy might. You’re not alone in your struggle. Four thousand years of effort came before you and there are lessons available for those open to learning.
6. Healing can be Ugly…and That’s Fine
The healing journey, as promised in Chapter 1 of Out of the Basement, is a rocky path. We suffer scars and injury along the way. Blood may flow and tears can pour as if we are a storm personified. Not every moment or day can be sunny. Need to sit down and rest weary arms and lick your spiritual wounds. That’s ok. Resting to marshal your strength is necessary. Wallowing without regrouping is not. Things can be ugly and they can get worse but, and I believe this wholeheartedly, a person can get out of their personal basements with the right mindset, support, inspiration, and patience.
Questions for Book Clubs or Classroom
Michael was traumatized in a church’s basement. A priest, Father Sylvan, plays an instrumental role in his healing process. What tensions arise and are resolved with this duality?
By the end of the book, you’ve “watched” Michael three different book presentations. What insights do the presentations allow into Michael’s personality? What message stood out?
At the end of the story, Sara expressed concern that she had led Michael on. Michael said she hadn’t. Considering what happened between them, do you think Michael dismissed Sara’s concerns too quickly? Why or why not?
In dream analysis, dreams possess a storyline, which is referred to as the dream’s manifest content, and a hidden or symbolic meaning, the latent content. Using this framework, discuss the manifest and latent content of Michael’s nightmare in Chapter 7. What did you make of his dream?
At an early age, Michael identified himself as a “rock.” What do you think this means? How might such a self-concept be helpful or harmful?
When in St. Jude’s basement, Michael recalls his “garbage” nightmare. He declares that he is not garbage. Why is this moment significant to Michael? How did it impact you as a reader?
Epigraphs introduce certain chapters and act as a bridge between some others. What was a favorite epigraph of yours from the book? What do the epigraphs reveal about the power the past might have in our present lives?
Michael finds inspiration in the music of Bruce Springsteen, and the book includes a “Suggested Listening” page, where songs are paired with certain chapters. What songs would you suggest to be paired with a particular chapter? Why?