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Legs

William Kennedy

Study Questions and Suggested Essay Topics

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Study Questions

Discuss the relationship between Jack Diamond and F. Scott Fitzgerald's character the Great Gatsby.

The idea of Jack as a character that has been created by the media is emphasized by his parallel relationship to the fictional character the Great Gatsby, who was created by Fitzgerald. The closest connection Jack has to the world Fitzgerald portrays in his novel The Great Gatsby, is Arnold Rothstein, a real man on whom Fitzgerald based his character Meyer Wolfsheim. Still, Marcus notes similarities between Jack and Gatsby. Both men are involved in the criminal underworld; both have risen to wealth and fame from poverty and obscurity; both men are wildly popular due to their wealth. Both are self-made men. They embody a version of the American Dream, which says that anyone can rise to success from humble beginnings. Jack succeeds using illegal and violent means, but he succeeds. Jack might recognize shades of Gatsby in himself, for he buys a roadster in order, at least in Marcus's opinion, to seem like Gatsby. Kennedy tells his story about Jack in a way similar to the way Fitzgerald tells his story about Gatsby. Both writers employ the first person perspective of a young male narrator who came into Jack/Gatsby's life shortly before Jack/Gatsby's murder. Both narrators are primarily attracted to the lifestyle of Jack/Gatsby, two men who possess enchanting and impressive personas.

Trace the development of cats as a motif associated with Jack.

Jack has had a special affection for cats since he and Eddie adopted their cat Sugarpuss as boys in Philadelphia. Marcus notices the similarities between Jack and his cat, Pistol, when he first visits Jack at his farm. Jack and Pistol both move with a swift lightness of feet, brimming with energy. Marcus watches as Pistol hunts a squirrel and a mole, toying with his prey with a control over life and death similar to the control that Jack wields over his own gangster prey. It is painful for Jack to remember how he and Eddie were forced to kill the neighbor's cat, which looked just like Sugarpuss. Helping to kill a creature that reminds him of his own beloved animal most likely triggers Jack's guilt over the many people he has turned against and betrayed over the years, such as Fogarty. Jack associates the memory of killing the cat with Eddie, which could mean that Jack associates killing cats with a general feling of remorse about losing touch with his family. Jack also resembles the cat, which proverbially possesses nine lives, in his ability to escape death.

Discuss what might motivate Marcus when he composes Jack Diamond's epitaph. Is there anything in it for Marcus?

Marcus states at the beginning of the novel that he has decided to write this book because the world deserves an original presentation of the very singular life of Jack Diamond. This makes us wonder what Marcus finds original about Jack. Marcus does not relish the gruesome details of Jack's deeds; he does not go into great detail about the intricacies of Jack's gangster business; instead, he focuses on his relationship with Jack and on Jack's relationship with the two people closest to him when Marcus knows him, Alice and Kiki. He always comes back to the idea that neither he, Alice, or Kiki can stay away from Jack. There is simply something irresistible about him. Jack's inexplicable magnetism is what makes him an original.

Suggested Essay Topics

Connect the motif of the canary to Jack, Kiki, and Alice. Which character is most like a canary?

Jack admits that Fogarty is essentially his replacement for Eddie. If that is so, why does Jack turn on Fogarty?

Discuss the ways in which Jack Diamond is both a representation and a betrayal of the American Dream.

Alice appears innocent, but her mysterious murder suggests that she knew more about her husband's underworld doings than she seems to. How much do you think Alice was involved in Jack's crimes?

This novel is filled with scattered bizarre moments: the sailor with bird feathers, the strange street vender who tells Kiki not to quit show business, and Jack's knitting dog, for example. What is the significance of these strange moments?

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