Olive Kitteridge
Elizabeth Stout


The book is titled “Olive Kitteridge, yet the chapters are about everyone else, with exception of about 3 chapters.  In spite of this, we get a “feel” for Olive as the main character.  What did you learn about her?


Publisher’s Discussion Questions                                        from LitLovers.com &

  1. Do you sympathize with Olive Kitteridge as a character? 

WMBC - She is pragmatic, abrupt, loyal, proper, imperfect, stout, stoic, etc…

2. Have you ever met anyone like Olive Kitteridge, and if so, what similarities do you see between that person and Olive?    WMBC - Yes, in my youth, as I was reading this I thought of Mrs. Burdick, our neighbor, constantly. 

3. How would you say Olive changed as a person during the course of the book?  WMBC - In the end, Olive was less sure of herself and her world.  So much had changed and now she was with Jack Kennison…in his bed,” her eyes closed, and thought her tired self swept waves of gratitude- and regret. …It baffled her, this world.  She did not want to leave it yet.”  (She was with her new fuck buddy…ref ch  Starving, pg 73/3 ipad, ie: Harmon and Daisy & Victoria and Tim (Nina’s boyfriend.)

4. Discuss the theme of suicide. Which characters are most affected (or fascinated) by the idea of killing themselves?   WMBC - Kevin (Incoming Tide, pg 28 ipad), Olive (her mother), Nina (Starving, pg 66 ipad), Julie Harwood, (Ship in a Bottle, pg152 ipad), Christopher Kitteridge…

5. What freedoms do the residents of Crosby, Maine, experience in contrast with those who flee the town for bigger “ponds” (California, New York)? Does anyone feel trapped in Crosby, and if so, who? What outlets for escape are available to them? 

6. Why does Henry tolerate Olive as much as he does, catering to her, agreeing with her, staying even-keeled when she rants and raves? Is there anyone that you tolerate despite their sometimes overbearing behavior? If so, why? 

7. How does Kevin (in “Incoming Tide”) typify a child craving his father’s approval? Are his behaviors and mannerisms any way like those of Christopher Kitteridge? Do you think Olive reminds Kevin more of his mother or of his father? 

8. In “A Little Burst,” why do you think Olive is so keen on having a positive relationship with Suzanne, whom she obviously dislikes? How is this a reflection of how she treats other people in town? 

9. Does it seem fitting to you that Olive would not respond while others ridiculed her body and her choice of clothing at Christopher and Suzanne’s wedding?  WMBC - See pgs. 62/63 ipad…..

10. How do you think Olive perceives boundaries and possessiveness, especially in regard to relationships? 

11. Elizabeth Strout writes, “The appetites of the body were private battles” (“Starving,” page 89….76 ipad). In what ways is this true? Are there “appetites” that could be described as battles waged in public? Which ones, and why? 

12. Why does Nina elicit such a strong reaction from Olive in “Starving”? What does Olive notice that moves her to tears in public? Why did witnessing this scene turn Harmon away from Bonnie? 

13. In “A Different Road,” Strout writes about Olive and Henry: “No, they would never get over that night because they had said things that altered how they saw each other” (p. 124…105 in ipad). What is it that Olive and Henry say to each other while being held hostage in the hospital bathroom that has this effect? Have you experienced a moment like this in one of your close relationships? 

14. In “Tulips” and in “Basket of Trips,” Olive visits people in difficult circumstances (Henry in the convalescent home, and Marlene Bonney at her husband’s funeral) in hopes that “in the presence of someone else’s sorrow, a tiny crack of light would somehow come through her own dark encasement” (p. 172…144 ipad). In what ways do the tragedies of others shine light on Olive’s trials with Christopher’s departure and Henry’s illness? How do those experiences change Olive’s interactions with others? Is she more compassionate or more indifferent? Is she more approachable or more guarded? Is she more hopeful or more pessimistic? 

15. In “Ship in a Bottle,” Julie is jilted by her fiancé, Bruce, on her wedding day. Julie’s mother, Anita, furious at Bruce’s betrayal, shoots at him soon after. Julie quotes Olive Kitteridge as having told her seventh-grade class, “Don’t be scared of your hunger. If you’re scared of your hunger, you’ll just be one more ninny like everyone else” (p. 195…162 ipad). What do you think Olive means by this phrase? How does Olive’s life reflect this idea? Who is afraid of his or her hunger in these stories? 

16. In “Security,” do you get the impression that Olive likes Ann, Christopher’s new wife? Why does she excuse Ann’s smoking and drinking while pregnant with Christopher’s first child (and Henry’s first grandchild)? Why does she seem so accepting initially, and what makes her less so as the story goes on? 

17. Was Christopher justified in his fight with Olive in “Security”? Did he kick her out, or did she voluntarily leave? Do you think he and Ann are cruel to Olive? 

18. Do you think Olive is really oblivious to how others see her– especially Christopher? Do you think she found Christopher’s accusations in “Security” shocking or just unexpected? 

19. What’s happened to Rebecca at the end of “Criminal”? Where do you think she goes, and why do you think she feels compelled to go? Do you think she’s satisfied with her life with David? What do you think are the reasons she can’t hold down a job? 

20. What elements of Olive’s personality are revealed in her relationship with Jack Kennison in “River”? How does their interaction reflect changes in her perspective on her son? On the way she treated Henry? On the way she sees the world?
(Questions issued by publisher.) 

WMBC - The ending was abrupt…what did you think of Olive in the end.  Are things resolved for her?


Important WMBC insights:

Pg. 12 Pharmacy – He loved her guilelessness (Denise), he loved the purity of her dreams, but this did not mean of course that he was in love with her.  The natural reticence of her in fact cased him to desire Olive with a new wave of power.  Olive’s sharp opinions, her full breasts, her stormy moods and sudden, deep laughter unfolded within him a new level of aching eroticism, and sometimes when he was heaving in the dark of night, it was not Denise who came to mind but oddly, her strong, young husband- the fierceness of the young man as he gave way to the animalism of possession- and there would be for Henry Kitteridge a flash of incredible frenzy as though in the act of loving his wife eh was joined with all men in loving the world of women, who contained the dark, mossy secret of the earth deep within them.  “Goodness,” Olive said, when he moved off her.

Pg. 42 Incoming Tide - “Even though, staring into her open eyes in the swirling salt-filled water, with sun flashing through each wav e, he thought he would like this moment to be forever: the dark-haired women on the shore calling for their safety, the girl who had once jumped rope like a queen, now holding him with a fierceness that matched the power of the ocean- oh, insane, ludicrous, unknowable world!  Look how she wanted to live, look how she wanted to hold on.”

Pg. 104  A Different Road - “But after a certain point in a marriage, you stopped having a certain kind of fight, Olive thought, because when the years behind you were more than the years in front of you, things were different.  She felt the sun’s warmth on her arms, although down here under the hill by the water, the air held the hint of nippiness.”
Pg. 105…”Do you know, Ollie,” he said, looking up , his eyes tired, the skin around them red.  “In all the years we’ve been married, all the years, I don’t believe you’ve ever once apologized.  For anything.”  She flushed immediately and deeply.  She could feel her face burn beneath the sunshine that fell upon it.  “Well, sorry, sorry, sorry,” she said, taking her sunglasses from where they’d been resting on top of her head, and putting them back on.  “What exactly are you saying?”  she asked. “What the hell ails you?  What in hell is this all about?  Apologies?  Well, I’m sorry then.  I am sorry I’m such a a hell of a rotten wife.”

Pg 162 Ship in a Bottle – “ I always remember she said one day, ‘Don’t be scared of your hunger.  If you’re scared of your hunger, you’ll just be one more ninny like everyone else.’”

Pg 191 Security – She pictured standing before him, her shredded panty hose exposed like some crazy lady.  “I will not take off my shoe,” she heard herself say.  She said, “I don’t give a dam if  the plane blows up, do you understand?  I don’t give one good goddamn if any of you are blown sky0high. “  She saw the security man give the slightest gesture of his hand, and two people were beside her.  They were men, and in half a second a woman was there, too.  Security officials in their white shirts and special stripes above the pockets…. What do you think happened to Olive after this?  Strip searched?  Why wasn’t it part of the story?  Today, Olive would be handcuffed and imprisoned!!

Pg. 222  River - “What young people didn’t know, she thought, lying down beside this man, his hand on her shoulder, her arm; oh, what young people did not know.  They did not know that lumpy, aged, and wrinkled bodies were as needy as their own young, firm ones, that love was not to be tossed away carelessly, as if it were a tart on a platter with others that got passed around again.  No, if love was available, one chose it, or didn’t choose it.  And if her platter ad been full with the goodness of Henry and she had found it burdensome, had flicked it off crumbs at a time, it was because she had not known what one should know: that day after day was unconsciously squandered.”