Study Guide

Famous Morality and Ethics

By Naomi Shihab Nye

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Morality and Ethics

We can't read Nye's "Famous" without feeling like she is reminding us that we should care less about the most recent celebrity divorce and more about how we could be helping the elderly widow across the street. On the other hand, it isn't as though Nye is scolding us. She's just gently reminding us that we can do a lot by doing just a little. Gee, maybe we should finally do that volunteer work for Habitat for Humanity we've been promising to do.

Questions About Morality and Ethics

  1. What's the moral lesson here? What do you think Nye is telling us about how to treat strangers? Do you agree? Do we have a moral duty to do whatever we can for other people? Do we have a moral duty to do whatever we can for nature? Are those two ideas separate or connected?
  2. Does Nye wait until the end of the poem to introduce an ethical theme, or are there subtle hints at ethics in the first seven lines?
  3. Do people usually win more fame being moral or immoral? Should we get the same amount of fame for both?
  4. Can nature act in an immoral or unethical way? Remember that cat lounging on the fence—the one who is worrying those poor birds to death? Well, what if he wakes up from that nap and decides he needs a little chase-the-birds exercise? And what if that leads to a game of catch-(and maybe eat)-the birds? Is that unjust? 

Chew on This

Humans are made famous by doing what they can, which primarily means being kind and good to one another.

Being ethical means fulfilling your function—the way that a pulley or a buttonhole does.

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