Discussion Guide for Breaking Point

Women’s Issues

Eleanor was brought up to believe that her primary purpose in life was to find a good husband and to bear his children. All else was secondary, including her brilliant intellectual and academic accomplishments.

How have women’s views on their purpose in life evolved since Eleanor’s time? Have men’s views of women matched that evolution?

Eleanor’s first two relationships, to Rawley Fletcher and George Rand, were unsuccessful.

Why did she submit to Rawley and tolerate George? After two failures, why did she reach out to Johnnie?

There are three women in this book: Eleanor, finding a role for herself in 11 Group; Millie, intelligent and hard-working, but denied an education because of her ‘working class’ background; and Dottie, whose husband is in a POW camp and now fills her days with volunteer work.

How does each of them react to their situations and challenges?

The structure of the novel

The narrative alternates between Eleanor and Johnnie, from the strategic perspective of the Operations Room map to the tactical perspective of what Johnnie can see out of his cockpit. Often the narrative switches between the two with only a few minutes’ difference in time.

Are we seeing the same story from two perspectives, or two parallel stories? When the narrative merges toward the end of the book, does one point-of-view dominate?

Park was a real figure, Eleanor is fictional. The 11 Group Operations Room and the ‘Dowding System’ were real, Eleanor’s model is fictional.

To what extent can we believe that Eleanor and her model could have been real? Why or why not?

The nature of war as presented in Breaking Point

Johnnie does not hate the Luftwaffe pilots who are trying to kill him. In fact he thinks of them as exactly the same as himself.

To what extent is it possible to fight a violent battle to the death and not hate one’s enemy?

Johnnie reflects on Ovid’s quotation that ‘it is sweet and honorable to die for one’s country,’ ‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.’ He also recalls Owen’s bitter retort:

‘My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.’

Can it be ‘sweet and honorable’ to die for one’s country?

Many historians describe World War II as a ‘just war’ against the forces of fascism and militant nationalism.

Is it possible to have a ‘just’ war? If so, what recent wars have been ‘just?’

Johnnie’s psychology

Johnnie deals with the prospect of imminent death by convincing himself he doesn’t have anything worth living for, as exemplified by Yeats’ poem:

I know that I will meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above.

I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

Obviously Johnnie was in acute peril, but to what extent is stoic suppression of one’s feelings and desires a good way of managing the vicissitudes of everyday life? Does modern society need more, or less, stoicism?

Johnnie’s reluctance to pursue Eleanor stems in part from her evident lack of interest and in part from his fear of rejection.

If Johnnie had expressed his feelings before the end of the book, would their relationship have been different? 

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