The Boys in the Boat Essay Topics
1. In this novel, Brown chooses to not only tell the story of the Washington crew team, but also to devote narrative space to Hitler, Germany, and the actions of the Nazi government before, during, and after the 1936 Olympics. Why do you think he has chosen to tell both stories? What kind of context or deeper understanding does it provide the reader?
2. Each boy in the boat thought of himself as the weakest member of the team. Who would you categorize of the weakest and who do you consider the strongest? Why?
3. Consider Brown’s extensive use of detail in the novel. What kinds of things does he describe in detail? What role do these details play in the novel?
4. Though all the members of the team are important characters, Joe Rantz is undoubtedly the novel’s protagonist. Trace Joe’s character development from his childhood to his gold-medal finish in Berlin. How does Joe grow as a character? What does he learn about himself and the world, and in what ways does he change?
5. In what ways are the specifics of rowing—the technique, the boats, the teamwork required—metaphors for what the boys, particularly Joe, learn about life and friendship over the course of the novel?
6. Sports journalism plays a major role in The Boys in the Boat, particularly in the minor character of Royal Bourgham, who follows the boy’s careers from freshmen rowers to Olympic gold medalists. Compare and contrast the sports journalism described in the novel with today’s modern sports journalism, from live TV to blogs. In what ways are they different? What remains the same?
7. Rowing is a sport that is heavily affected by the weather, from heat waves to blizzards to strong winds. Brown uses historical weather conditions to add context to various races; in what ways does the weather he describes mirror the characters’ internal thoughts or feelings?
8. Joe and Joyce’s relationship is a major through-line in the novel. Compare and contrast Joe and Joyce’s childhoods. How did their very different childhoods shape their personalities, and how did their past experiences shape their long, happy relationship?