Tristram Shandy is governed by a tension between the seemingly haphazard way in which the story is put together and an overarching sense of authorial design. Which predominates? Is the author in control of his digressions (and merely affecting their spontaneity), or does the story actually run away from him and have to be reined back in?
Tristram suffers a series of early accidents which would be fairly trivial by any standard except his father's. To what extent do Walter's theoretical obsessions actually contribute to his son's misfortunes?
What is the effect of Tristram's frequent addresses to his audience?
What is the relationship between the "I" who narrates the story and Laurence Sterne?
What attitude does the author take toward the more sentimental scenes in the book, like the anecdote of Toby and the fly, or the story of Le Fever? How ironical is their presentation? How do we account for the author's strikingly unsentimental treatment, at times, of such topics as love and death?
Tristram discusses his scene-making in terms of both drawing and theater. What is the effect of the precise visual details given in the book? What kinds of scenes receive this treatment? Compare the rendering of a scene like Trim's sermon (II.vii) or Walter's torturous reach for his handkerchief (III.ii), to the style of drawings by the artist Hogarth.
It is a truism of psychoanalytic thinking that early childhood events, particularly sexual ones, can be the most critical events in a person's life. Would it make sense to interpret Tristram Shandy psychoanalytically? What evidence is there that Tristram's childhood traumas actually influence his adult personality?
How does the seventh volume, in which Tristram describes his travels through Europe, relate to the rest of the book? Could it have been omitted?
Do you think Sterne intended to end the novel with the ninth volume? Why or why not?
What is Sterne's attitude toward science?
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