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The Old Woman Who Named Things

By Cynthia Rylant

Summary

This is a story about an old lady that has outlived all of her friends and fears that she will be a lonely old woman without any friends to call by name. She feels the need to name inanimate objects that she is sure will outlast her, such as her chair, her car, her bed, and her house, and treat them as friends who will never leave her. One day when she is out in her yard, a shy brown puppy with no collar appears at her gate. Will the old woman risk naming the puppy and making a friend that she might lose?

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

By Kelly Lhungay

The Old Woman Who Named Things presents a sweet message of the importance of friendship over the fear of loss.

The old lady in this story has dealt with a lot of loss in her life, and has made an active decision to distance herself from things that could disappoint her or leave her. Since to her, giving a name to something is to have a relationship with it, the lady picks up the habit of naming only the hardiest objects in her life. By putting up this defense and only naming inanimate objects, the old lady is not allowing herself to be open to any new relationships in her life.

Interestingly, the lady does not seem to worry about her own death, but just the loneliness that accompanies the death of her friends. Before meeting the puppy, she seems to live a pleasant, busy life limited to her inanimate friends. She seems to be living within the guidelines of Epicurus, who believed in minimizing pain and maximizing happiness. He warned against an overindulgent life because it often lead to pain. Would the lady have been better off staying content alone until her own eventual death? Did the presence of the puppy add enough enrichment to her life to outweigh the risk of his loss?

There are those who see Epicurus’s way of life as too safe and unsatisfying. If one is too afraid to deal with pain in life, they end up never experiencing the heights of pleasure, and instead are left in a middle area throughout life. To some, the experience of a greater happiness may be worth enduring more hardship. Is there more to life than the assessing risk of pleasure versus pain? Also, can you even truly appreciate pleasure without experiencing pain?

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Friendship

  1. What was the meaning of names for the lady?
  2. Do you think the lady was really friends with the Car, the bed, etc.?
  3. What is a friend? How do you treat your friends?
  4. Are the woman and the dog friends?
  5. How do you think having friends affects your life?

Loss

  1. Has someone you know ever died? If so, how did you feel when you found out?
  2. Would you want to be friends with someone even though you know they are leaving? Why?
  3. Have you ever made a mistake you’ve enjoyed? (Have you ever eaten too much ice cream and gotten a tummy ache?)
  4. Do you think that the lady made the right decision in accepting the puppy into her life?

This book module deals with ethics, specifically friendship and love. You can buy this book on Amazon.

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