Eleanor & Park

by: Rainbow Rowell

Study Questions

1

The novel is told from the point of view of both protagonists. Why does Rainbow Rowell switch back and forth between Eleanor’s perspective and Park’s perspective? What effect does switching back and forth have on the reader?

By switching between Eleanor’s perspective and Park’s perspective, Rowell lets the reader know both sides of the story from the very beginning. The book is about the relationship between its two main characters, and the reader gets to see the relationship unfold from both sides equally, so the reader can understand all the choices that both Eleanor and Park make throughout. The reader gets to compare both characters’ thoughts and emotions about the situation. Rowell also changes the speed in which the perspective shifts back and forth depending on how intertwined the two characters’ stories are. When they connect with each other physically, and their perspective is barely different at all, the point of view flickers very quickly back and forth.

The technique of switching back and forth between the characters also allows Rainbow Rowell to let the reader get to know their backstories. Switching back and forth between perspectives lets reader get to see different scenes, because the different points of view show each character’s home life as well as each character’s perception of what goes on at school. The reader also gets to see Eleanor and Park reacting to the same scene in either similar or different ways.

2

Masculinity is a very important idea to Park’s dad, yet Park doesn’t feel connected to many traditionally masculine traits. What role does the idea of masculinity play in the relationship between Park and Park’s dad, and how does that evolve over the course of the novel?

Park’s dad takes pride in activities that he considers to be traditionally masculine, such as playing sports, watching sports, hunting, and driving a stick shift. Throughout the novel, Park often feels tension between what he thinks his father wants him to do and the identity he feels connected to. When Park fails to drive the truck successfully, or when he is not as athletic as his brother, Park feels like he’s disappointing his father. The tension between Park’s dad and Park intensifies when Park starts wearing eyeliner. Though Park feels confident and comfortable in the makeup, Park’s dad is angry at him, because he wants Park to display more traditionally male behaviors.

However, Park’s dad eventually realizes that Park can exhibit strength of character and maturity in different ways. When Park stands up for Eleanor by fighting with Steve, Park’s dad is proud of him, not only because this is a traditionally masculine activity, but because Park is standing up for what he believes in. Although Park’s dad initially seems to equate driving a stick shift with being a grown man, in the end of the novel, driving a stick shift demonstrates not Park’s masculinity, but his responsibility.

3

Discuss the role of Richie in the novel. Richie abuses Eleanor’s family, both physically and psychologically. How does her mom deal with this? How does Eleanor approach the situation, and what effect does this have on her outlook?

Eleanor’s family’s relationship with Richie is very complicated and difficult. Richie abuses Eleanor’s mom physically and emotionally, and especially cruel to Eleanor since she has stood up to him in the past. However, Eleanor’s mom wants her family to be happy, so she doesn’t want to admit to herself that anything is wrong. Eleanor’s mom has been conditioned to never defy Richie, since he has manipulated her to think that this is just the way that things have to be.

Eleanor witnesses and internalizes this toxic relationship between her mom and stepfather, which is apparent when she has a hard time opening up to Park emotionally and when she ignores his letters. Richie represents essentially the opposite of everything that Park provides for Eleanor. Park is a safe haven and a person whom Eleanor can completely trust both emotionally and physically. Richie, however, makes life a living terror. But by the end of the novel, Eleanor gains the confidence to both stand up to Richie’s behavior by leaving the house permanently, and to open up her heart fully to Park.