Study Guide

Shooting the Moon Themes

  • Warfare

    When Shooting the Moon starts, Jamie is gung-ho about her brother going to war. In fact, she's jealous. TJ gets to use a gun and fight the bad guys while she's stuck at home, going to school. Snooze fest. It's only when Jamie starts to see some of the blood and guts from TJ's photos that she begins to realize that war isn't all glory and excitement like when she played it as a kid. Hmm… Seems like it might have been obvious that war involves blood, but whatever.

    We might say that the book is really about Jamie's journey with war since how she thinks about and understands war changes over the course of the book as she deals with it more. Just like Jamie, we're reminded that war in many ways isn't about winning or losing. It's super hard for the soldiers and their families who are left worrying about the fate of their loved ones.

    Questions About Warfare

    1. What is Jamie's attitude toward war at the beginning of the book? How about at the end? What makes her think twice about the war?
    2. How do the pictures relate to war? What is Byrd's attitude to the pictures he took in Vietnam? Why? How does Hollister respond to TJ's pictures?
    3. What is the Colonel's attitude toward the Vietnam War specifically? How does his job and position on war impact Jamie's idea of it?
    4. Check out our guide to the Vietnam War. Do you think it was worth the hassle? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    Jamie's attitude toward war demonstrates her naivety and childish notions of life.

    Even though Jamie isn't as excited about the Vietnam War at the end of the book, she still supports war in general.

  • Art and Culture

    They say a picture speaks a thousand words, but Jamie would rather a letter from her brother, so when she gets sent rolls of film to develop in Shooting the Moon, she's bummed. She wants to learn about all the blood and guts of the war, not see some pictures of huts. Bo-ring. It's not until she realizes that the film is like a letter, just with more details, that she starts to like the pictures. Pretty soon, she enjoys the process of developing the film. She gets to see all the tiny details of each picture while she's bringing them into focus, while appreciating her brother's talented eye for photography. Jamie learns to appreciate the photos as art, and comes to terms with war all at the same time.

    Questions About Art and Culture

    1. Why does the Colonel frown upon TJ's photography? What do you think he means when he says you have to live life or stop and look at it? Which do you think TJ does?
    2. What do you think is TJ's motivation for sending his sister film? Why do you think it disappoints her?
    3. What's TJ's fascination with the moon? Why does Jamie photograph the moon for him? What does it mean to her? To jumpstart your thinking, swing by the "Symbols" section.

    Chew on This

    TJ uses photography as a way of saying more than words ever could.

    Jamie uses art as a way of confronting the truth of war.

  • Versions of Reality

    Perspective can change the way we see reality. Don't believe us? Try taking a photo of your dog from the floor versus from the couch. Fido will look a lot different from each spot. (Just don't get covered in slobber). For Jamie, the war is an exciting thing that allows people the opportunity to use weapons and fly helicopters. Bloody gauze? Bring it on. Risking your neck? Yes, please. Jamie thinks war is a good part of life and desperately wants to be a part of it.

    Then there's the Colonel. He's actually been to war and has the medals to show for it. He knows what it's like to see his buddies come home in body bags, and families mourning their loved ones. Like we said, it's all about perspective. Shooting the Moon helps us see that there are multiple versions of reality out there, depending on where you're sitting.

    Questions About Versions of Reality

    1. Is there one central reality or truth about war? Who is aware of it? Is the "truth" found out at the end about which reality is more realistic?
    2. How does the book differentiate between Jamie and the Colonel's way of looking at the world? How do their viewpoints differ?
    3. If you think about it, a book is a different version of reality. Why do you think the author uses a fictional family to talk about real historical events? How might we connect our own reality to the one in the book?

    Chew on This

    Shooting the Moon presents us with different versions of reality so we can decide which is best.

    Shooting the Moon shows us that multiple realities are often true when it comes to complex issues like war.

  • Fear

    Monsters under the bed. Boogie men. The dark. When you're a little kid, fears are pretty easy to come by—as you get older, though, fear becomes more complex and trickier to pin down. It's not that the characters in Shooting the Moon are terrified of some monsters with three heads and an appetite for brains; instead the book asks us to think about how we deal with fears that we can't confront or see. The Colonel fears what will happen to the men he sends overseas to the war; Jamie's mom frets over whether TJ will come home; Jamie worries about who she is without the army. Heavy stuff, we know.

    Questions About Fear

    1. List all the fears you can think of from the book. Which do you think is scariest? What makes this particular fear darker or bigger than the others?
    2. Does Shooting the Moon come to a conclusion about fear? In other words, is it healthy to have fear? Dangerous? Something else entirely? Back your answer up with evidence from the text.
    3. In the beginning of the book, Jamie doesn't fear war. Why? What does this tell us about her character? Is it a good thing for her to act flippantly about war?

    Chew on This

    In Shooting the Moon, fear highlights the bad things that are inevitable in a time of war.

    Jamie doesn't fear war because she doesn't fully understand it.

  • Duty

    If you've been around war novels long enough, you know that "duty" is bound to come up sooner or later. Duty is the bread and butter of books about warfare because wars bring up a lot of questions about who or what people should feel a sense of obligation to. In Shooting the Moon, TJ feels a duty to sign up for the army. Why? For one thing, his buddies are enlisting and dying over there, and he wants to do his part to fight the enemy. The Colonel feels an obligation to the army to abide by their rules and orders—yet at the same time, he also has a duty as a father to protect his son. Sometimes, the duties the characters feel conflict with one another. Ugh.

    Questions About Duty

    1. Why does TJ enlist in the army? Why is his dad against it? What or whom does TJ have a sense of duty toward?
    2. How do the Colonel's duties as a military man and father conflict? Which wins out in the end? Do his competing duties impact his role in the army? Be specific, please, and give evidence from the text.
    3. Is duty a good thing or a bad thing in Shooting the Moon? How does it compel characters to act in a certain way? What determines duty?

    Chew on This

    TJ enlists in the army out of obligation, not because he wants to fight.

    TJ enlists in the army because he wants to get revenge for his lost friends, not out of a sense of duty.

  • Gender

    Playing pool. Cussing. Watching football. These are all big no-nos for girls in Shooting the Moon. At least, that's what Jamie's told. There's a lot of talk about who can do what, based on gender. Guys can curse like a sailor, throw a mean spiral, and always have the upper hand at cards, while girls, on the other hand, are supposed to be at home cooking up a storm. More casserole, please.

    Jamie doesn't bother with any of these rules, though. In fact, she calls them out for the nonsense that they are. Jamie loves football, can beat almost anyone at a game of gin rummy, and is counting down the days until she can join the army. She doesn't care if she's a girl or not. She can do anything the boys can do (and when it comes to cards, better, too).

    Questions About Gender

    1. How does Jamie respond to gendered rules? Why do they bother her? In what ways does she defy these expectations? Give specific examples from the book.
    2. How would Jamie be treated differently if she were a boy? She tells us that people root for her in cards because they don't expect a girl to win. Does this help or hurt her?
    3. Shooting the Moon is set in the 1960s and reflects gender roles of that time. Are expectations any different for men and women now? How might Jamie be treated differently if she was alive now?

    Chew on This

    Jamie calls out gender as something that society constructs, not something you're born with.

    Gender roles in Shooting the Moon show us how limiting it is for Jamie when people assume she isn't as capable or strong because she's a girl.

  • Memory and the Past

    Ah, the good old days, when ice cream was just a nickel and your biggest worry was who was going to win in a game of army. In Shooting the Moon, Jamie tells us a lot about what it was like to grow up on an army base and fondly recalls playing with her brother as a kid. In fact, much of the story is told to us in a series of flashbacks. Did you notice how TJ goes off to war in the very first chapter, but Jamie fills us in on how he got there as the book goes along? That's because she's using her memories to give us all the juicy details.

    Memory is very important in the book, and it can be comforting (like looking at old pics with your bro) or frightening (like seeing pictures of the war you were in). Let's just hope you have more of the first kind of memories.

    Questions About Memory and the Past

    1. How does Shooting the Moon represent memory? How does Byrd's view of memories differ from Jamie's? What does this reveal about memory?
    2. What's so important about the past? How does it impact Jamie's view of war and her family? Be specific, please.
    3. Why do you think the book is told through a series of flashbacks? How would it be different if Jamie laid it out chronologically?

    Chew on This

    Jamie dwells on the past because it's her only connection to her brother.

    Shooting the Moon uses flashbacks to make connections between past and present.

  • Life, Consciousness, and Existence

    It's time to get deep. What's the meaning of life? How do you know if you have a significant existence? What's the purpose of this whole consciousness thing anyway? Yep, it just got real. Don't say we didn't warn you—on the surface, Shooting the Moon might not be about the nature of existence, but it is when you dig a little deeper.

    The Colonel in particular is faced with some big questions about whether he should send certain people off to war, knowing it most likely won't end well. He has to weigh this decision against shipping someone else out. Remember, each one of these guys has a family back home who will be devastated to lose their son/brother/friend. There's no easy decision when it comes to which lives we should value more than others. Welcome to the big leagues, Shmoopers.

    Questions About Life, Consciousness, and Existence

    1. What type of life does the Colonel want to live? How is this different than what TJ wants to do? What role does photography play in all this?
    2. Do you agree with the Colonel's decision about Hollister's papers? What does this tell us about the value of life?
    3. If you had to sum up the novel's message on life and existence, what would you say it is? For a real challenge, try to do it in a sentence or two. For a proper essay, be sure to bust out some evidence from the text.

    Chew on This

    Shooting the Moon argues that special treatment should be given to people who have already endured trauma and heartache.

    The Colonel doesn't care about photos because he sees more value in living life instead of merely capturing it on film. He believes you have to choose either observation or participation.