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Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane July 2, 2006

Posted by pvccbookclub in Current Discussion.

U.S. Marshal, Teddy Daniels, is shipped off to Shutter Island to Shutter Island investigate the disappearance of a patient from a hospital for the criminally insane. He and his partner, Chuck Aule, know that it was impossible for multiple murderess, Rachel Solando, to have escaped from her highly guarded cell. At least, not without help from someone on the inside. The hospital staff seem to stonewall any of their efforts to extract information about the hospital. Their fear and confusion are magnified when a terrifying hurricane traps them on the island and Teddy becomes convinced that he is being dosed with psychotropic drugs to prevent him from unearthing the conspiracy.

This is a fast-paced psychological thriller that will leave you with even more questions once the mystery is revealed.

This novel has a surprise ending so you may want to finish reading it before reading the discussion questions.

Questions to consider for discussion:

What is the purpose of the prologue? What kind of foreshadowing does it provide and what does it reveal about Dr. Sheehan and Teddy? Did you go back and read it again after finishing the novel?

Teddy is a tough and prickly character. How then does he come to trust Chuck so easily? What experiences create a bond between them? Once Teddy encounters George Noyce at Ashecliffe, he begins to doubt Chuck’s loyalty. Why?

How much of Chuck’s story do you think is real? How much has been fabricated, and by whom? Do you think Chuck betrayed Teddy or helped him?

How much of Teddy’s history is true? Was his fear of open water born during his childhood when he discovered he could never be a fisherman like his father? Or did that fear come later after the tragedy with his wife and children?

Describe Teddy’s relationship with his wife, Dolores. What draws them together? If he is so much in love with her why can’t he see that she is about to self-destruct?

Is Teddy effective as a U.S. Marshall? Does his fascination with codes now seem childish and/or melodramatic?

Teddy’s encounter with the warden is disturbing on many levels. How does the warden’s view of the patients at Ashecliffe reflect that of society at large? Does his attitude make you feel that Dr. Cawley’s experiment was justified?

Dr. Cawley had many powerful opponents. What clues indicated that his methods of treatment were not sanctioned by many of his colleagues?

How do you feel about Dr. Cawley and Dr. Sheehan’s experiment? Was it ethical? How was it dangerous and who stood to get hurt? Was it worth the risks involved? Were they deluding themselves to think it would ever work?

Would Teddy have been better off if they had never allowed the experiment to take place? He says at one point that Dr. Cawley was the “man who’d come to save him.” Do you agree with this assessment?



1. mimi - January 30, 2010

I thouroughly enjoyed the book, but i have a few questions. Why were the initials on teddy’s gun, e.d. and not a.l.? What were the orderlies carrying over to teddy at the end – white with metal? someone plse. enlighten me. thanks

2. liz - January 31, 2010

i just finished the book and am confused as well – is this the point? good questions mimi … i want to know the answers to the initials on the gun and what the fabric bundle is as well. do we know what the truth is? is chuck dr. sheehan – or really just chuck all along? did teddy “imagine” the scenario of the 4 days in a drug-induced state and really it is only the beginning of that time?

3. Charles - February 1, 2010

The little white bundle with some metal on it was a straight jacket.

4. Susan - February 3, 2010

I think that Teddy’s delusions let him see the initials on his gun. A bit later we learn that it is only a water pistol. And, the ending means that his breakthrough didn’t hold and he once again believed that Dr. Sheehan was Chuck and he was a U.S. Marshal. I think the orderlies were coming to put him in a straitjacket to take him for his lobotomy.

5. Angela - February 11, 2010

Loved the book but am wondering about the ending. I am wondering whether Teddy really is crazy or if he has been drugged and now will never leave the island. We find out that the first Rachel was a fake, but what about the second Rachel (the supposedly “real” Rachel that was once a nurse). She went on to say that she did not agree with the hospitals methods and so they wanted to lock her away. Is this what is happening with Teddy? Perhaps because he wanted to rat out the hospital they drugged him and fed him this lie to make him have a “break through” that he is delusional himself. Also, the beginning of the book, Dr. Sheehan is explaining about a RAT getting off the island and that Teddy would have clapped. Is this Rat really a metaphor to Teddy?

6. KTay - February 17, 2010

What ever happened to the girl in the cave?? This is the only part of the book for me that was left unfinished. Was it a dilusion??

7. Dillon - February 18, 2010

My interpretation of the prologue:
The rat that Dr Sheehan talks about in the prologue represents Teddy Daniels. The ocean represents the madness that Teddy is going through. The little rock island that disappears is the brief moment of sanity that Teddy experiences. So, the doctor sees the rat (Teddy) swimming in the ocean (insanity) to a small rock island where it has a brief moment of rest (sanity in Teddy’s case) but the sea is already starting to resubmerge the island and eventually it does, also consuming the rat which the doctor loses sight of.

So chapters 1-23 are the rat swimming in the ocean (Teddy’s delusion that he’s still a U.S. Marshal and has a job to do). Chapter 24 is the rat on the little rock island (Teddy’s brief realization that everything in the last 3 days was all in his head and made up to give him a livable rationalization to his family’s death). Chapter 25 is the rat after the ocean has once again submerged the island (Teddy back in the middle of the delusion – hopelessly so – the straight-jacket represents the fact that he’s never coming back just like the doctor never saw the rat again after the ocean resubmerged the rock).

Also, saying that Teddy would have clapped if he saw the rat is a big clue to the fact that Teddy ends up crazy at the end of the book. I think it’s kind of a red herring to make you read the book with this thought in mind: “What is going to happen to drive Teddy insane?” It helps increase the tension that the story needs to keep you reading.

The fact that, Emily, the doctor’s wife and a nurse on the island, doesn’t think the doctor ever really saw the rat swim out there indicates that she never believed Teddy ever had any sanity at all. This strikes me as a minor point though it may also represent the opinion of the rest of the hospital staff and doctors – they all believed that Dr Cawley’s experiment would fail and it did.

Karin Hooper - March 1, 2010

His experiment didn’t really fail, did it? I mean “Teddy” was faking the regression at the end so he knew he was going to be lobotomized. As he asked “Chuck”…Is it better to be a monster who is dead or a good guy who lives?

8. CPat - March 2, 2010

I just finished the book, but have yet to see the movie. The ending really gets you thinking, which is evident by all the discussions I’ve found on the web.

I agree with Dillon’s interpretation (above) that the rock island represents Andrew/Teddy’s “sanity” as one of the quotes from Teddy/Andrew in the last chapter is “Gotta find a way off this rock” which would imply he needs to once again escape from the painful reality of his life and that a lobotomy would be the best way to acheive that (also works with the final quote of the movie “Is it better to live as a monster or die a good man?”). Andrew/Teddy fakes his regression and as he sits with Chuck/Dr. Sheehan, Dr. Cawley and the warden approach him followed by the orderlies carrying a straight jacket which suggests they plan to restrain him in order to perform the aforementioned surgery. As “Teddy”, he would obviously fight them, hence the need for the straight jacket; as Andrew though, he wouldn’t need the surgery, which is why he fakes his regression. Awesome, thought-provoking novel!

To Mimi & Liz (above): He sees the initials E.D. because he believes himself to be Edward “Teddy” Daniels. Again, part of the delusion.

To KTay: Emily in the cave was was part of Andrew’s delusions, and played the part of the “real” Rachel Solando to re-enact the delusions as part of the experiment to help Andrew get back in touch with reality.

To Karin: That quote is from the movie, not the novel.

9. Kimberly Allen - February 21, 2011

Loved the book!! The ending was meant to leave you wondering. Wondering about anti-psychotic drugs and could they actually makes someone psychotic. There were questions left to make you question and wonder. I have been thinking about this book since I finished it. I still do not know if he was A.L. or E.D. I say beware of what you are putting in your body is the clear message.

10. http://www.madamejanette.info/bb/profile.php?mode=viewprofile&u=1492372 - June 7, 2012

There is spirit in the soul, untouched by time and flesh, flowing from the Spirit, remaining in the Spirit, itself wholly spiritual. In this principle is God, ever verdant, ever flowering in all the joy and glory of His actual…

The knower and the known are one. Simple people imagine that they should see God, as if He stood there and they here. This is not so. God and I, we are one in knowledge….

11. Andrew Janeiro - January 16, 2013

I thin that at the end of the book, after he admits to being Andrew (not kidding that is my name too…), the doctors decide to put him back in a certain place and time where he thought he was Teddy to see if he would regress to thinking he was Teddy, which I think he faked because he couldn’t live with what he had done.

12. chinchillas care - August 8, 2013

I all the time used to read paragraph in news papers but now as I
am a user of net so from now I am using net for content,
thanks to web.

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