Study Guide

The Host Themes

  • Identity

    "Who am I?" is a difficult question for any person to answer. Human identity is a complicated thing. It's next to impossible to figure out if you have an alien species sharing your brain. In The Host, both humans and aliens are having a bit of an identity crisis. Wanda realizes that it's impossible to separate the human feelings of Melanie's body from her own. Humans who are revived after being implanted by the aliens are stuck in a haze of confusion. If your body chops down a tree in the forest, but you weren't in control, was it really you?

    Questions About Identity

    1. What parts of Wanda's personality are her own? What aspects does she learn from Melanie?
    2. How does being a prisoner inside her own body affect Melanie's identity? Does it change her personality?
    3. Why do Jared, Melanie, and Jamie pick the young girl's body for Wanda in the end? How does it change the way others perceive Wanda? How does it change the way she perceives herself?
    4. Wanda has lived eight lives on eight different planets prior to coming to Earth. Talk about an identity crisis! How does living as another species affect Wanda's approach to living as a human?

    Chew on This

    Wanda's human body unexpectedly overpowers her alien one. Because of this, she ends up identifying as human and choosing to stay one, even though it means a shorter life span.

    Wanda's new body affects her personality, making her more submissive to the humans. They treat her like a child, and she starts to think like one. At least she gets to keep shopping!

  • Love

    We've heard that love knows no bounds, and The Host definitely tests this theory. How much does love depend on people's bodies? Their minds? Their souls? Their species? As a human, Wanda discovers the sheer power of love, both its highs and its lows. And Ian, who has always been human, learns that the can love someone who isn't exactly a member of his own species. Perhaps love really does make the worlds go round.

    Questions About Love

    • Why does Melanie love Jared? Why does Jared love Melanie? Would Melanie and Jared have fallen in love if they had other options?
    • Does Wanda love Jamie as a brother because Melanie does or because of her own free will?
    • Would Ian love Wanda if she were in a different body? What about a male body?
    • Why does Wanda fall in love with Ian?

    Chew on This

    Both Wanda and Melanie are in love with Melanie's ideal version of Jared. None of his cruelties can change their mind.

    Because of the nature of her species, Wanda loves everyone. As a human, she learns to not love people.

  • Foreignness and The Other

    You can't get much more foreign than an alien species taking over the planet. The creepy thing about these aliens, however, is how much like us they are. They take our bodies and pretend to be us, but they don't get it exactly right. It's like a real-life uncanny valley. The aliens are experiencing culture shock, too. As an outsider, Wanderer sees us through a slightly different perspective. She must ask herself, Who are these crazy humans? Why are they so violent and weird? And why do I love them and their Cheetos much?

    Questions About Foreignness and The Other

    1. What elements of the human experience that we take for granted are completely foreign to Wanderer?
    2. What aspects of the souls' lifestyle are foreign to the humans? (Killing humans doesn't count. Humans kind of pioneered killing our own species.)
    3. How is the new alien world different from our own present-day world?
    4. Jeb says to Wanda that she'll always be a parasite. Is this true, or does he still just see her as an "other"?

    Chew on This

    As an alien, Wanderer has a difficult time separating humans from animals, often seeing the animal traits in us that we have a tendency to ignore.

    The souls' peaceful existence is so different from our own chaotic, often violent one that their universal harmony makes them seem very foreign and creepy.

  • Community

    Everyone longs to fit into a community. Except for Chevy Chase. He hates Community. In The Host, you'd think Wanda would have it made. She comes from a species that lives in perfect harmony with one another. Their communities are Leave it to Beaver meets Stepford Wives then Photoshopped into perfection. It's one big conformity love fest. But Wanda wants something different. Something imperfect: human acceptance. Jeb's cave-dwelling community is a love fest of a different kind. They work together to grow food, cook, and clean—but they also bicker, fight, and argue. Now that's a community we can live with.

    Questions About Community

    1. In what ways does the alien community differ from Jeb's cave-dwelling community? In what ways is it similar?
    2. Being an alien living among humans, Wanda is an outsider for most of the novel. When does she feel part of the human community? Why do the humans accept her?
    3. At the end of the novel, we see human communities not only exist, but they have also accepted an alien like Wanda. How will this discovery affect the cave dwellers?

    Chew on This

    The alien species live as an ideal community in perfect harmony, but ideals aren't enough for Wanda. She wants a community that accepts her for who she is, not just because that's how things are done.

    It's ironic that the cave dwellers find the souls' society creepy. As their leader, Jeb has imposed a false sense of harmony and communism onto the group, forcing them to behave like the souls do.

  • Family

    Families are made up of all sorts of people, and they don't have to be related to you by blood. Just look at Full House. There's a dad, some wacky uncles, two daughters, the Olsen twins, and Kimmy. (They might not like to admit it, but Gibbler's family.) But what if an alien took up residence in Mary-Kate's head? Would she still be considered family? We may have missed that very special episode of Full House, but thankfully Stephenie Meyer has stepped in to help us with this conundrum. Even Danny Tanner doesn't have a heartfelt speech and corny joke for an issue like this one.

    Questions About Family

    1. Why does Jamie accept Wanda as part of his family? Is it because she's inhabiting his sister's body, or is it for other reasons?
    2. In the park, Wanda and co. observe a family made up of alien parents and a human child. Do you agree with Wanda that this family represents the family of the future, or do you believe the child should be rescued from its new parents?
    3. Why does Jeb protect Wanda/Melanie? Would he protect Wanderer if she wasn't in the body of one of his family members?

    Chew on This

    Wanda is so protective of Jamie because Wanda's mothering instinct takes over.

    Wanda craves a family because her species doesn't have the concept of family.

  • Compassion and Forgiveness

    There are a lot of stories about people exacting revenge on those who have done them wrong. (When will they learn not to mess with Liam Neesen?) You don't often see the flip side of the coin: people forgiving those who have done them wrong. Well, we kind of understand: it doesn't make nearly as good a story. But The Host tackles just this issue. The humans have to learn to co-exist with Wanda, a member of a species who as all but eradicated the human race. As Wanda observes, humans are much more likely to fight it out than to hug it out.

    Questions About Compassion and Forgiveness

    1. Why does Sharon allow herself to be consumed with hate for Wanda and her species? Will she ever forgive her?
    2. Wanda thinks she has compassion for the human race from the very beginning. Does she really? When does she develop compassion for the humans?
    3. Do the humans ever feel compassion for Wanda's race, or do they only feel compassion for her individually?

    Chew on This

    Ian's capacity for compassion is what allows his love with Wanda to grow.

    Kyle is only able to forgive Wanda after he meets Sunny. With Sunny in Jodi's body, it's easier for him to cope with losing Jodi.

  • Life, Consciousness, and Existence

    As it says on the back of The Host: "Earth, it was fun while it lasted." Oh wait, that was a tagline to Armageddon. But it applies here as well. Both Armageddon and The Host have a few things in common: (1) There are things in outer space beyond our control. (2) You never know how much time on Earth you have. (3) And an obsession with processed foods. (Cheetos vs. Animal Crackers. Who wins?) When she's not munching on Cheetos, Wanda often ponders what it means to be human and to exist in this universe.

    Questions About Life, Consciousness, and Existence

    1. What does Wanda learn about life as a human that she didn't know from her lives as other species?
    2. Why does Wanda choose to live the rest of her life (lives?) as a human instead of traveling to another planet?
    3. Wanda tells a few awesome stories about her lives on other planets. How do these creatures lives compare to our own? What is the significance of Wanda's stories?

    Chew on This

    Despite living on eight other worlds, Wanda decides that humans are the best. Their strong emotions are addictive, and Wanda wants to live—and die—as one.

    Wanda's storytelling is one of her biggest strengths (besides shopping). By sharing stories of other planets, she puts our own human lives into perspective.

  • Memory and the Past

    We are all affected by our memories. Memories can be tied to smells, places, and people. But what if you had someone else's memories? Would that change who you are? In The Host, both Wanda has to deal with a big memory mix-up. Initially, she's supposed to use Melanie's memories to lead the Seeker to the surviving humans. The problem? Melanie's memories are so strong, Wanda develops an intense attachment to the people in them, driving her motivation for the rest of the book. That's some pretty powerful stuff.

    Questions About Memory and the Past

    1. How do Melanie's memories affect Wanda's actions?
    2. When the parasites are removed and humans regain consciousness, the memories are mixed and confused. How does this affect them? How do they benefit from it?
    3. Do Melanie's memories of Jared match up with how he behaves in person? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    The aliens are supposed to use memories to track down and kill humans, but Melanie turns the tables and uses the power of her memories to her advantage.

    Melanie's memories are always written in present tense, showing how immediate and powerful they are to Wanderer.

  • Prejudice

    People are prejudiced for a variety of reasons. (None of them good ones.) They might be against someone of a different race, body size, or sexual orientation. Or they might be prejudiced against the alien race that killed their family. Okay, that might be a good reason. Or is it? In The Host, most of the humans hate Wanda for being a member of the race that has almost wiped humans from the planet. But some people are able to look past that and not blame her for the actions of her race. Us? We're honestly not sure.

    Questions About Prejudice

    1. What stereotypes does Wanda believe about humans? What stereotypes do the humans believe about Wanda's species? Which are true, and which are not?
    2. Is Kyle justified in making prejudiced remarks toward Wanda and her species?
    3. What finally makes Kyle overcome his prejudice toward Wanda's species? Do you believe he's totally free of prejudice at the end of the novel?

    Chew on This

    People hate what they don't understand. They see the aliens as an evil race and can't immediately comprehend that not all of them are evil.

    Wanda's entire species has prejudiced views of humans, thinking them angry, greedy, evil murderers. If they didn't have this attitude, they might not have invaded Earth in the first place.

  • Exile

    Exile is pretty much the opposite of community. The aliens and humans in The Host might be playing well amongst themselves, but they're not exactly getting along with each other. The humans have had to go into hiding to protect their species because they're now the minority. But they don't learn much from their situation. When Wanda's the minority, they don't waste any time isolating her until they decide what to do with her.

    Questions About Exile

    1. Because of the alien invasion, humans have had to live in exile to survive. How have they needed to adapt their lifestyle?
    2. Wanderer is an exile in the human community. How do they treat her differently than everyone else?
    3. By sympathizing with the humans, Wanda becomes an exile from her own community. How does this affect her interactions with her own species when she goes on supply runs?

    Chew on This

    When Wanda and the humans don't see eye to eye, Wanda's feels as an outsider are exacerbated, and she isolates herself until she can come to terms with their differences.

    Exile has been a good thing for the humans. They're getting along much better now than they ever did before the aliens arrived on Earth.