Discussion questions for The Sunset Limited
1) What are you thinking about as The Sunset Limited ends? First impressions are what we’re after here, not considered opinions. Spit out what’s on your mind without pausing too long to consider why it’s there.
2) One of the first images in TSL is the locked door of Black’s apartment. It’s an image that the director returns to more than once during the play. Why? What idea or feeling is reinforced by its repetition?
3) Early in their discussion Black tells White, “Belief ain’t like unbelief. If you’re a believer and you finally got to come to the well of belief itself, then you ain’t got to look no further. There ain’t no further. But the unbeliever’s got a problem. He’s set out to unravel the world. For everything he can point to that ain’t true, he leaves two false things laying there.” Discuss this quote. What is Black arguing here? Do you agree with him?
4) White saves one of his best points for late in the play, when he tells Black, “And brotherhood, justice, eternal life? Good God man… Show me a religion that prepares one for nothingness, for death. That’s a church I might enter. Yours prepares one only for more life, for dreams and illusions and lies. Banish the fear of death from men’s hearts and they wouldn’t live a day. Who would want this nightmare but for fear of the next. The shadow of the axe hangs over every joy. Every road ends in death, every friendship, every love. Torment, lost, betrayal, pain, suffering, age, indignity, hideous lingering illness… and all of it with a single conclusion. For you and everyone and everything you have ever chosen to care for.” Discuss this quote. What makes this this perspective attractive? In your opinion why does White want to persuade Black that this is so?
5) If you were in Black’s position, how might you have handled the encounter with White differently? At what points in the conversation would you have tried to take it in a different direction than Back did? Why?
6) Same questions as #5, but from White’s perspective. How might you have argued his case better than he did?
7) In several recent interviews Tommy Lee Jones said that The Sunset Limited reminds him of a Flannery O’Connor quote: “Faith is what someone knows to be true whether they believe it or not.” Discuss this quote and why in your opinion Mr. Jones ties it to The Sunset Limited
8 ) In your opinion who wins the argument between Black and White? Justify your answer.
9) The last image in TSL is, quite conspicuously and deliberately, a sunrise. What did it signify to you? Why do you think the director calls our attention to it?
1) White finally has the chance to off himself, not without a little extra joy from once again “winning” the argument, black is left back with a lot of questions and a new acquired knowledge of human nature, and the unsatisfying prospect that unlike before, now he is aware that other people exists who may be farther from the “Grace of God” as he once was.
2) That the characters are isolated, they are there for good, and the door, although firmly closed is all that keeps these 2 man together playing this duel of the wits. It may be also a representation of black strong conviction and believes, which is later metaphorically shattered at the end of the story.
3) Black is arguing that “doubters” (as he call us/them) are simply examining every aspect of the world and, since human knowledge is still rather limited, for every dead end they find two things become evident; first the original question is still unanswered and second the previous answer (or the attempt to answer it) was wrong.
4) I don’t see White as an arrogant fellow, but his education gives him a powerful tool set to asset situations, he knows form the moment he walked into that apartment that black had little to no chance to change his mind, all he tries to do during the best part of the narrative is leaving the apartment without hurting black feelings. However while Black may not be an educated man he is really cleaver and has more “real life” experience, at the climax of the narrative he finally drives White into a corner, and the later can only retort using the big guns, and stomp on black’s propositions and believes as hard as he can. He knows by now that black is not going to fold, his believe in God gives him an universal answer to address anything White can bring to the table, hence White instead of going around and trying to finish the conversation quickly he simply destroy the ultimate defense, Black’s belief, the one argument that he has brought over and over during the conversation.
5) One of white’s arguments is particularly weak “The darker picture is always the correct one”, that is an absolute statement, one of the things he condemned about Black was his black and white perception of the world, on general the darker picture is “usually” the correct one, but not always. I do believe that is what has us here today, the small amount of people actually trying to make this a better world, those who reject the instinct and destructive nature of species and use intellect not only as a survival tool but also as means to improve our society and give this world a better chance to face the future.
The other thing I’d have pointed out was the principle of uncertainty, it is true that forever is a long time, and it is true that all we are and do may eventually be for naught or in White’s words “futility”. However that’s just half of the story, Intellect brought us were we are, which is without a doubt farther than we could see a few centuries ago, our view at this moment reaches far way into the nothingness of time and the eventual fate of our species, but that is no probe that intellect is unable to take us farther than that, in fact the only thing that can stop us from make that discovery is using our own intellect against our survival chance, like White was about to do. In short, you can not act based on an inevitable fate on the assumption that is it inevitable.
7) I believe that summarizes Black’s perspective thoroughly, he has his doubts but he expects to experience or learn something that reaffirm his faith, it is definitely a heavy blow to meet White and have his beliefs put to doubt.
8) Contrast is a powerful theme within the story, the sun raising scene is the ultimate representation of these contrasts, although the day is raising their interaction and camaraderie is over, although the light is coming Black feels deep within the darkness, although this is the end of the story it’s conclusion is more uncertain than it was at the beginning.
Great questions by the way.