MONSTER by Walter Dean Myers
Peer Pressure One theme of the novel involves the challenges of managing peer pressure and dealing with the consequences of peer pressure. This is especially seen in how Steve associates with young men he knows are individuals with questionable character. There is a sense that he needs to prove his manhood in some way be being with this “tough guy crowd” in spite of the fact that they bring disaster down upon him.
Young African Men in Harlem Another them is that of the experience of young African American men in Harlem. The author presents the situation that exists for these young men who are growing up in the middle of poverty, crime, and hopelessness. They often make the wrong choices because they have few positive role models, and they often see themselves as “destined” for prison.
Introspection and Personal Responsibility The theme of introspection and personal responsibility is one of the most prevalent themes. Steve must come to terms with who is really is. His screenplay and journal entries are ways for him to try to make sense of what he has done or hasn’t done in his life and what has brought him to the point of being on trial for his life. By the end of the novel, his doubts and fears about who he really is and how responsible he is for the death of Mr. Nesbitt have not yet been completely resolved in his mind.
Race and the Justice System Another important theme is that of race and the justice system. There is a sense that because Steve is young and black, he is “more likely” to have committed the crime in the eyes of the jurors. There is also the sense that if he has been arrested, he must have done it because the police and the prosecution witnesses wouldn’t lie.
The mood is very dark and filled with despair as we see Steve learn to cope with what may be the outcome of the trial. The mood brightens somewhat at the end after he is acquitted, but ultimately the mood remains dark even as the novel concludes. Steve must now face the realization that his life is changed forever and that he doesn’t really know who he is anymore.
The novel takes place in Manhattan and Harlem, New York City, mostly in a city jail or lockup, but sometimes the scenes take us to the neighborhood where Steve Harmon lives.
Point of View
In the journal entry sections, the novel is written in the first person narrative point of view. In the film script sections, the novel is written in third person objective.
Character List (Major characters)
Steve Harmon He is a sixteen year old young African American man who has been arrested for acting as the lookout in a robbery that goes bad and ends in a murder. He is the narrator of the story, writing it in the form of a screenplay interspersed with his journal entries.
Kathy O’Brien She is Steve’s defense attorney who uses his character traits before the crime and makes sure she distances him from the other defendants as a way of getting a not guilty verdict.
Sandra Petrocelli She is the Assistant District Attorney who prosecutes the case against Steve and James King. She labels them “monsters.”
James King An African American man who is also young, but older than Steve. He encourages Steve to be part of his crew which will rob the drugstore. He is accused of being in the drugstore, wrestling Mr. Nesbitt for the gun, and ultimately shooting the older man to death.
Asa Briggs He is the defense attorney who is representing James King and trying to get the jury to find him not guilty.
Richard “Bobo” Evans He is the other young man accused of being in the store at the time of the murder. He admits to stealing the money and grabbing the cartons of cigarettes while King is wrestling Nesbitt for the gun. He makes a deal with the prosecution to testify against King and Steve to get a lighter sentence.
Osvaldo Cruz He is another participant in the crime. It was his job to stand outside and trip up anyone who tries to catch them after they rob the store. He claims he did it because he was afraid of Bobo, but he is a member of a street gang and slashed someone’s face to be accepted into the gang.
Lorelle Henry She is a grandmother who was in the drugstore at the time of the murder. She testifies that she saw two men in the drugstore, and she picks James King from a handful of photos and then from a lineup.
Jose Delgado He worked in the drugstore and found Mr. Nesbitt’s body. He also determined that several cartons of cigarettes had been stolen along with money from the cash register.
Steve’s parents They are depicted as hard-working people who have tried to raise their sons right. Steve’s mother continues to believe in him no matter what, but his father looks at him like he doesn’t really know him.
Dorothy Moore James King’s cousin, she testifies that James had brought her a new lamp for Christmas at the time of the murder.
Sal Zinzi An inmate in prison who testified he heard another prisoner talking about buying cigarettes from a guy who held up a drugstore where the owner was killed.
Wendell Bolden A prisoner who testified that he bought cigarettes from Bobo Evans. He also testified that Bobo told him a man was killed during the drugstore robbery.
George Nipping He testifies that James King is left-handed which creates reasonable doubt that King committed the crime since it was more likely that Mr. Nesbitt was shot by a right-handed perpetrator. His testimony is weak, however, because the perpetrator was wrestling with Mr. Nesbitt over the gun.
Alguinaldo Nesbitt The victim of the crime, he is depicted as a decent, hard-working citizen who lost his life in defense of his property. However, his character isn’t well presented because the focus of the story is Steve and the other young men on trial.
External conflict: Steve Harmon is on trial for felony murder and must help his attorney convince the jury that he is not guilty.
Internal conflict: Steve Harmon must deal with his own questions and conscience about his involvement in the crime and about his questions about who he is really as a person.
Protagonist The protagonist of a story is usually the main character who traditionally goes through some sort of change. He or she must usually overcome some opposing force. In Monster, the protagonist is Steve Harmon, a sixteen year-old African American youth who is on trial for his life.
Antagonists The antagonist of a story is the force that provides an obstacle for the protagonist. The antagonists include the justice system, the neighborhood which impacts young men like Steve, the people Steve associates with in the neighborhood, and Steve himself.
Climax The climax of a plot is the major turning point that allows the protagonist to resolve the conflict. The climax of this story occurs when Steve is found not guilty of felony murder.
Outcome The outcome, resolution, or denouement occurs in the final chapters when Steve __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
1. What causes Steve to cry at night?
2. What details describe the setting?
3. How does the writer use details to create a mood or atmosphere?
4. Why does Steve decide to tell the story of his experience in the form of a movie script?
5. What is the significance of the following quote? “I’ll call it what the lady who is the prosecutor called me. Monster.”
Monday, July 6
1. What is the significance of “Fade in: Interior: Early morning in Cell Block D, Manhattan Detention Center?
2. What effect does the author create by using the Voice-over? “VO: Ain’t no use putting the blanket over your head, man. You can’t cut this out; this is reality.”
3. What is the visual effect of Steve’s opening credits?
4. What is the significance of the following quote? “There are also monsters in our communities—people who are willing to steal and to kill, people who disregard the rights of others.”
5. What is Kathy O’Brien’s response to Steve when he tells her he is writing this “whole thing down as a movie?” What does this tell us about her attitude towards him? (inference)
6. For what crime are James King and Steve Harmon on trial?
7. What is Sandra Petrocelli’s responsibility as Prosecutor? What is her opening argument?
8. What is Kathy O’Brien’s responsibility as Defense Attorney? What is her opening argument?
9. What is Asa Briggs’s responsibility as Defense Attorney? What is his opening argument?
10. Briefly summarize the testimony of Jose Delgado.
11. Briefly summarize the testimony of Sal Zinzi.
12. Briefly describe the flashback involving Steve and his friend Tony. What can we infer about Steve’s character from his actions in this scene?
13. What is the difference between the point of view of the journal sections and the point of view of the movie script sections?
Tuesday, July 7:
1. Why does Steve “hate, hate, hate” this place?
2. What is Bolden’s testimony and how does it advance Petrocelli’s case?
3. In the flashback scene with Peaches and Johnny, what are the characters debating?
4. How does Briggs try to discredit (make the jury doubt) the truth of Bolden’s testimony?
5. What are two dangers Steve and other inmates face at night in the detention center?
6. What does the flashback between Steve and Jerry reveal about the nature of the brothers’ relationship?
Wednesday, July 8:
1. What precaution do the prison guards take and why?
2. What is the significance of the following passage? “It’s funny, but when I’m sitting in the courtroom, I don’t feel like I’m involved in the case. It’s like the lawyers and the judge and everybody are doing a job that involves me, but I don’t have a role. It’s only when I go back to the cells that I know I’m involved.”
3. Considering your answer to question #2, why do you think the author chooses to write the trial scenes as a script and the prison cell scenes as a personal journal?
4. What internal conflict is revealed in the following passage? “I want to look like a good person. I want to feel like I’m a good person because I believe I am. But being in here with these guys makes it hard to think about yourself as being different. We look about the same, and even though I’m younger than they are, it’s hard not to notice that we are all pretty young. I see what Miss O’Brien meant when she said part of her job was to make me look human in the eyes of the jury.” (Conflict, inference, and characterization)
5. What does the following passage reveal about Steve’s character and about the setting? “I hope I didn’t shout out in my sleep. That would look weak to everybody. It’s not good to be weak in here.”
6. What is the testimony of Detective Karyl?
7. Describe Steve’s nightmare/fantasy sequence about Death Row. What does that scene reveal about his emotions and character?
8. O’Brien suggests to Steve that in the eyes of the jury he really isn’t innocent until proven guilty. What does she mean by this? (theme, character)
9. Compare and contrast Osvaldo Cruz’s behavior in the neighborhood flashback with his behavior on the witness stand. What do these behaviors reveal about him? (character)
Thursday, July 9:
1. What is Steve’s reaction to O’Brien’s claim that the judge could sentence him to 25 years to life? What is your reaction to this possibility?
2. What literary device is used in the following passage? “I wanted to open my shirt and tell her to look into my heart to see who I really was, who the real Steve Harmon was.” What is the author trying to convey with this passage? (Figurative language—metaphor. Character Development. Theme)
3. Consider the following passage: “While we were waiting, they brought King in and handcuffed him near me. I thought of the movie, of what kind of camera angle I would use. I could smell the different scents of him. He had on aftershave lotion and some kind of grease on his hair. I could separate the smells. Please don’t speak to me, I prayed.” What does this passage reveal about Steve? What does it reveal about James King?
4. Why does Steve say James King can’t scare him?
5. What is the reaction of the kids visiting court when Steve turns and looks at them? How do you think Steve feels about their reaction?
6. Summarize Osvaldo’s testimony.
7. Do you believe Osvaldo when he says, “I was in because I was scared of Bobo?” Explain.
8. Have you ever participated in an activity simply because you were afraid of what others would say or do if you didn’t participate? Do you know of any other people who have done this? Why do you think this happens?
9. How do Briggs and O’Brien try to discredit Osvaldo or show the jury that Osvaldo’s character is questionable?
10. Do you trust Osvaldo? Why or why not?
11. What do we learn about Steve and Mr. Harmon from the scene describing Mr. Harmon’s visit with his son?
12. Steve is deeply shaken by seeing his father cry? Why? Has there ever been a time in your life when the reaction of someone else troubled you greatly? If so, what were the circumstances of the situation? Why do you think it affected you so strongly?
13. What do the two flashback scenes in which Steve learns of Nesbitt’s murder suggest about his emotions at the time? What conclusions can you draw about his probable guilt or innocence?
Friday, July 10:
1. Why does Petrocelli show the jury the photographs of the crime scene? (character motivation)
2. What is the external reason Steve is about to throw up?
3. What is the internal reason Steve is about to throw up?
4. What is the significance of the four-way split-screen montage? (Steve’s split-image presentation suggests the reader’s difficulties in coordinating conflicting and contradictory testimony by a group of witnesses. Some evidence, such as testimony of Steve’s relationship with James King and Bobo Evans, indicates guilt. Other testimonies make no connection between Steve and the crime or criminals).
5. According to Moody’s testimony, what caused the death of Mr. Nesbitt?
6. With a partner, sketch the trajectory or path of the bullet through the body (as described by Moody).
Saturday, July 11:
1. Why do you think Miss O’Brien warns Steve not to write anything in his notebook that he doesn’t want the prosecutor to see?
2. Why do you think Steve is becoming more and more concerned about what Miss O’Brien thinks about him?
3. How have Steve’s fears changed as he has gone through this experience?
4. As a small group, act out the story of Ernie’s arrest. Then be prepared to share with the class your answers to the following questions: a) Why does Ernie believe he is not guilty? b) Do you agree with his argument? Why or why not?
5. James King says, “When Bobo shows, he shows correct but sometime he act like a spaceman or something.” What does the simile James King uses to describe Bobo Evans reveal about his attitude towards Bobo?
6. Steve says, “Bob’s not Einstein.” What literary device is being used here and what does it reveal about character?
7. In the flashback where James King asks Steve to be lookout, the author ends the scene before the reader can learn Steve’s answer. Why do you think the author does this? What do you predict was Steve’s answer? Why?
Sunday, July 12:
1. Compare and contrast Mrs. Harmon’s response to Steve and his situation to that of Mr. Harmon’s response a few days earlier. What does this reveal about each of their characters?
2. What do you think Steve means when he says, “I need the movie more and more?”
Monday, July 13:
1. Who is Lorelle Henry and what is her testimony?
2. How much do you think Lorelle Henry’s testimony hurts James King’s case? Explain.
3. How much do you think Lorelle Henry’s testimony hurts Steve’s case? Explain.
4. How does Asa Briggs try to make Lorelle Henry’s testimony seem less damaging to King?
5. Why doesn’t O’Brien ask Lorelle Henry any questions?
6. Describe Bobo Evans’s physical appearance when he arrives at court. What does his physical appearance suggest about his character?
7. What is Bobo’s testimony?
8. What does Bobo say that hurts James King’s case?
9. What does Bobo say that hurts Steve Harmon’s case?
10. What does Bobo say (or not say) that might help Steve Harmon’s case?
11. Reread the paragraph on p. 183 in which Bobo describes how he got arrested when people were “dropping dimes” on him. With a partner, summarize in your own words what Bobo is saying. Also summarize what this reveals about Bobo. (Summarizing. Interpreting dialect, idiom, and metaphor. Character analysis).
12. How do Briggs and O’Brien try to discredit Bobo? 13. Describe the joke and metaphor of “The People Rest” cartoon.
Tuesday, July 14:
1. What is O’Brien’s strategy to defend Steve?
2. What do you think Steve wants to tell Jerry when he imagines saying, “Think about all the tomorrows of your life?”
3. What is Dorothy Moore’s testimony and how trustworthy is it? Explain.
4. What is George Nipping’s testimony?
5. Why isn’t James King going to testify?
6. Why does O’Brien believe Steve has to testify?
7. Describe the significance of the turning cup.
8. Briefly summarize Steve’s testimony. How well do you think he does? Explain.
9. How does Petrocelli use the acquaintance/friend trick to make Steve look bad in the eyes of the jury?
10. How does Mr. Sawicki serve as a character witness for Steve? How does Petrocelli try to discredit Mr. Sawicki in the eyes of the jury?
1. Using a T-chart, summarize the arguments Petrocelli uses to prove that James King should be found guilty versus the arguments Briggs uses to prove that King should be found not guilty. Feel free to add any additional arguments you think of that could be used.
2. Using a T-chart, summarize the arguments Petrocelli uses to prove that Steve Harmon should be found guilty versus the arguments O’Brien uses to prove that Steve Harmon should be found not guilty. Feel free to add any additional arguments you think of that could be used.
3. What does the judge say in his instructions to the jury that really haunts Steve?
4. If you were a member of the jury, would you find James King guilty or not guilty? Why?
5. If you were a member of the jury, would you find Steve Harmon guilty or not guilty? Why?
Friday afternoon, July 17:
1. Describe the internal conflict Steve is going through? How has his understanding of his responsibility in the crime changed since the beginning of the novel?
2. What is the verdict? Do you believe it is a fair verdict? Explain.
December, 5 months later:
1. Briefly describe the resolution.
2. What still haunts Steve? Why do you think he is still haunted by this?
3. Have you ever been haunted by something you have done or by someone’s opinion of you? Explain if you feel comfortable sharing this.
4. What do you think is the answer to Steve’s question: “What did she see?”
5. What do you see when you see Steve Harmon?