Bless the Beasts and Children Resources


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FOCUS QUESTIONS and EXTRA INFORMATION:  Bless the Beasts and Children

Note: On page 5, we get the first of many italicized sections.  Similar to flashbacks, these sections give background information on the characters and events mentioned in the book.  Pay very special and close attention to the information given in each italicized section throughout the book. My focus questions will guide you through each italicized section so that you know what to look for.

  • I have always thought it would be so incredibly helpful to read others' "italicized sections" in life, to now the background that we all carry with ourselves and which we gain with each new experience in our own lives. When you read the book and discover the information that these sections reveal, I think you will why I feel that way.



1) (page 1) sough: a rushing, rustling, or murmuring sound
2) On pages 1-3, note and describe Cotton’s dream.

  • The names are those of Cotton's cabin mates. Take note of them.
  • The people in the dream don't seem to be people. What do they appear to be described as?
  • Note especially who the killer is at the end of the dream.
  • This dream is an example of foreshadowing, so remember this as you continue reading the book.

3) On page 3, note what time it is. Pay attention to the passage of time in this novel. The flashbacks will make it easy to lose track, so be vigilant to the references to time.
4) On page 3, take note of their counselor's name, AND note how the boys in the cabin feel toward him.
5) On page 4, note and explain the importance of the boys' transistor radios.
6) On pages 4-5, explain why mornings and evenings are the worst times of the day for the boys.
7) On page 5, from where have the boys returned earlier this day? Why were they there?
8) On page 5, note what Goodenow does after dinner. Remember this; it's connected with what happened earlier this day (which the reader doesn't know about yet).
9) Note the italicized section on pages 5-6:

  • How does the camp determine who gets grouped with whom?
  • What do we learn about Goodenow in this part?
  • Who comes to Goodenow and takes him into his own cabin?

10) On page 6, what clue do we get that they have seen something horrible earlier this day?
11) On page 7, we get a brief indication of what Cotton dreams earlier in the chapter.

  • This is a clue as to what they witnessed earlier this day. What do you think it is that they saw?

12) On page 7, Cotton realizes that who is gone? Note carefully that we are told Cotton knows why this person is gone, too. We will find out, but remember this bit of foreshadowing.
13) On pages 7-8, note Lally 1's reaction to his brother's leaving. Also note that Cotton and Lally 1 are indeed aware of where he's going. We will soon find out.
14) At the very end of the chapter, note how Cotton feels toward his cabin mates.

  • How does he feel?
  • Pay attention to more examples of this type of leadership role regarding Cotton.



1) On page 10, we get a description of the mountains that surround the camp. This is some of Swarthout's most beautiful writing (the top seven or eight lines of the page); take a moment to savor the author's verbal craftsmanship.

  • At the top of the page, to what animals are the mountains compared? This should remind you of Cotton's dream.
  • Mogollon Rim

*stipplings: dots or small spots

2) On page 11, Cotton approaches Lally 2. Note what Lally 2 is holding; this will come up later in the novel.
3) On page 12, we read an italicized section about the Lally family.

  • What type of marriage do the Lally parents have?
  • Explain the Ooms.

4) On the bottom of page 12, note the reference to what the boys have seen earlier that day. What does it make Lally 2 do at lights out?
5) On page 13, Lally 2 says that they all should be going wherever it is he is going. What location do you think he's referring to? We will soon find out.
6) On page 14, list what they have already accomplished this summer at camp. Remember these feats; we will learn more about them as the novel progresses.
7) Note the italicized section on pages 16-18:

  • What is the name of this camp?
  • From what parts of the country does the camp draw its enrollment?
  • How old are those who attend?
  • What is the cost to attend?
  • What is the camp's slogan?
  • Note the bottom part of page 16: what concept is the camp based on?
  • Why did Cotton's group move in with him? By what names is the group known?
  • Describe the group's first baseball game.

8) By the end of the chapter, what has the group voted to do?



1) On page 20, note the italicized section: explain what happened when Lally 1 tried to send a letter home.
2) On page 21, list each character and the head gear he wears. This will tell us a great deal about the characters as we continue in the novel.

  • Hopi
  • Arnold Palmer
  • ten-gallon hat: a large, broad-brimmed hat, traditionally worn by cowboys
  • Afrika Korps (Remember the name Rommel, too; it will come up again in the novel in relation to the same character, Teft.)

3) Note what Goodenow has brought. Remember this!
4) On the bottom of page 22-the top of page 23, note Cotton's seizure. He goes catatonic for a while. What is the group's reaction?
5) Note the italicized section on pages 23-24:

  • What are the names of each tribe?
  • Which trophy is awarded to each tribe?
  • What is the trophy given to the team in last place? Why?
    • chamber pot: a portable container and used as a toilet
  • What name is given to the team in last place?

6) On pages 25-26, the group decides to put the truck back. Why?
7) What new plan does the group devise in order to reach their destination?



1) On page 28, what time is it as the boys finally have the horses saddled up and begin their trek?
2) Note the italicized section on pages 29-30:

  • Where did Shecker come from? With whom? Riding in what?
  • What do we learn about Sammy's eating habits?
  • What does Sid Shecker do in order to ensure his son has a good time at the camp?

3) On page 31, a movie the kids had seen this summer is mentioned:

  • What is the movie's name?
  • What connection is made between the boys and the plot of the movie? Remember this!

4) As they charge through the gate and away from camp, what do the kids yell? Remember this!



1) On pages 33-34, note the italicized section:

  • What is Goodenow's reaction to school?
  • How is Goodenow's relationship with his mother described?
    • oedipal relationship: a boy's relationship with his mother characterized by the boy's being overly attached to his mother
  • What do we learn about Goodenow's family history?
  • For what did Goodenow's stepfather severely punish him?

2) On page 35, why does Cotton disallow the idea of stealing a car from the parking lot of a bar?
3) Why is the motel parking lot eventually abandoned as a possible source of a car to steal?
4) On page 38-39, we get our first glimpse of "bump time."

  • What do the boys do when they bump?
  • Why do they appear to bump?
  • Remember this technique. We will learn more about it, AND it is connected to their mission.

5) On page 39, where do they finally find a vehicle? What type of vehicle is it?
*trice: a very short time; an instant
6) Note the italicized section on pages 40-41:

  • Why do they refer to their counselor as Wheaties?
  • What prank did Teft play on Wheaties?
  • What is a ding, and why does Wheaties call them this name?
  • How did Teft free the kids from Wheaties' tyranny?

7) Pay special attention to the description of the town plaza when the boys stop at a traffic light:

  • gay blade: dashing swordsman
  • faro: a gambling game
  • codgers: eccentric men, especially those who are old
  • domiciliary: describes a veteran who is confined to a home (like a nursing home) because he cannot care for himself
  • On page 45, how does the country treat these veterans?
  • What seems to be the way they pass their days?
  • Remember this description of veterans!



1) As the chapter begins, note what time it is.
2) On page 48, what item troubles Cotton? Note what it reminds him of. Remember this; it's foreshadowing their destination.
3) On page 48, in the beginning of the third paragraph, note the description of Lally 2's trauma. What do you think he and the other boys witnessed yesterday? (Remember Cotton's dream from chapter 1 as you speculate.)
4) On page 49, pay close attention to the paragraph that begins, "They zigged and zagged. . ."

  • What information are we given about man’s relation to the environment in this scene?
  • Explain what you think it foreshadows regarding the boys’ mission.

5) On page 50 right after the egg/chicks metaphor and as Cotton looks at the guys in the back of the truck, what worries him?
6) On pages 50-52, note the italicized section:

  • Explain the way that a team could improve its standing in the camp’s rating system other than by winning.
  • Explain the Bedwetters’ botched attempt at a raid.
  • Explain what happened to the Bedwetters as a result of their attempted raid.

7) Note the italicized section on pages 53-55:

  • On page 53, the morning after their attempted raid, what sort of decision does Cotton make regarding his cabin mates?
  • On pages 53-54, in what displays of adult masculinity does Cotton engage so as to attract the others' attention?
  • On page 54, Cotton decides that he is the group's new ***.
  • On pages 54-55, what new rules does Cotton institute?
  • Now do you see why, in the very beginning of chapter 1, Cotton was making sure all his men were in the cabin and why he insisted they go in search of Lally 2 when they realized he had snuck out? Why did he do this in chapter 1? That is, how does he feel toward his cabin mates?
  • Also, now do you see why Cotton ripped up Lally 1’s letter back in chapter 3 on page 20? Lally 1 had violated one of Cotton’s rules.

8) By the end of the chapter, where have the boys arrived?



1) On page 59, note the time.
2) Note the italicized section on pages 59-60:

  • In what sorts of childlike behaviors does Billy Lally (Lally 2) engage in order to get his parents' attention?
  • Why were Billy's treatments with various therapists never successful?
  • Describe the information we get about the first cabin Lally 2 inhabited. Who took him in?

3) On pages 60-67, the boys run into some trouble.

  • Describe the two locals that give them trouble.
  • What is the name of the fake rock band the boys say they are?
  • warren: an area containing many tenants in limited or crowded quarters
  • On page 66, note why the two troublemakers are so willing to call the police and report the boys for having a hot-wired car.
  • How does Teft handle the situation?
  • lugubrious: mournful, dismal, or gloomy, especially in an exaggerated manner

4) Note the italicized section on pages 67-68:

  • Describe Teft's misbehavior on the plane.
  • What finally garners all of Teft's attention, calming him down and ending his outbursts?

5) What do the two troublemakers do as a result of Teft's actions?



1) (page 70) jawohl: a German word meaning yes. Note that it is Teft who says this. (See chapter 3 again for Teft's head gear choice. This is not the first time he has been connected to the military.)
2) Note the italicized section on pages 71-72:

  • How is Shecker described?
  • Why does Shecker think they want him to calm down and stop using his father's routines and being "on" all the time?
  • What phrase, based on your answer to the above bullet point, comes into use as a means of making Shecker quiet?

3) On page 72, note what time it is.
4) The bottom partial paragraph on page 72 should make you connect the boys to their favorite movie of the summer. What connections can you make? (See page 31.)
5) Write down and remember the two song titles mentioned on page 73; they have significance to this plot. Remember them!

6) Note the italicized section on pages 73-74. How did the Bedwetters see a movie that they had not earned the right to see?
7) At the end of the chapter, why is Teft apologizing to his fellow Bedwetters?



1) On the bottom of page 77-78, Cotton has another seizure. Why? Where is Cotton specifically sitting when he has the seizure? Remember this seizure and, more importantly, where Cotton is sitting when it happens.
2) Note the italicized section on pages 78-79:

  • What is Cotton's mother's marriage history?
  • Describe the fishing trip to Quebec.
    • Did Cotton like the trip? Did he like his stepdad?
    • What did Cotton do in order to extend the trip?

3) On pages 79-80, how do each of the Bedwetters react once the lack of gasoline has sunk in?
* (page 80) Rommel
4) On page 81, Cotton decides to subject the others to a very important test: to see if they are willing to go on without him on this mission. Why does he do this?
5) On page 83, then, why does Cotton vote to forget about their mission?
6) On pages 83-85, what, one by one, do the rest of the Bedwetters vote to do?
7) On page 85, what is Cotton's reaction to the others' decision to go on with the mission even though they think they will do so without Cotton? Why does he react this way?



1) On page 87, what time is it?
2) Notice the final paragraph on page 88. This is a big clue as to what the boys witnessed the previous day. Any ideas?
3) On page 89, note that they are sneaking into a place. Cotton's dream (from chapter 1) is again mentioned. Can you tell what they witnessed yesterday, which made Goodenow throw up later that night, which made Lally 2 sneak out on his own to return to this place?
4) Notice the italicized section on pages 89-90:

  • What caused Goodenow's second suicide attempt?
  • Who goes to check on Goodenow?
  • How does Cotton explain to Goodenow the reasoning behind Cotton's rules for the boys?
  • Goodenow tells Cotton about bumping.
    • What is it?
    • How does Goodenow know about it?
    • Why does he mention it to Cotton?
    • See pages 38-39 for the first reference to bumping. Now we finally get a better understanding of what it is.

(page 89) viscid (VISS-id): having a glutinous (glue-like) consistency; sticky

5) At the end of the chapter, the boys have arrived at their destination. In what sticky, viscous material are they slipping, sliding, and falling? Does this give you an idea of where they are and what they witnessed yesterday?


CHAPTER 11 (This chapter is not italicized, but it is a sort of flashback. It takes place the prior day before the Bedwetters returned to camp.)

1) On page 92, the sign tells us where the boys are. Where are they?
2) On pages 92-93, how did they get to go to this place the preceding day? Why did they want to go here?
3) Notice the first full paragraph on page 93. This is a direct allusion to the details mentioned on page 88.
4) What type of animal is being killed here? What is the connection between what the boys witnessed here and Cotton's dream? Also, what is the connection between these animals and the description that you noted on page 10?
5) On pages 94-96, explain each of the three shooters.

  • What sort of death do they inflict on the animals?
  • Why is it ironic that these three particular types of people are murdering innocent animals?
    • That is, why would we not expect a woman, a young child, and a doctor to be killers?

6) On pages 97-98, note the italicized recapitulation of Shecker's bar mitzvah. Explain what happened.
7) On pages 98-100, explain what is happening at the game preserve (an ironically named place, by the way).
8) On the bottom of page 100 through the top of page 101, note and explain what is done with the animal parts. What does this suggest about the humans killing these animals?
9) The last paragraph of this chapter is perhaps the most important chapter of the novel. Here is the author speaking directly to his audience about what goes on at such places. This is not just fiction. Summarize the author's message in this final part of the chapter.
*atavistic: reverting to or suggesting the characteristics of a remote ancestor or primitive type
*beholden: obligated; indebted

  • Pay special attention to the very last sentence of the chapter. What does it mean to say that? (bear: to take, accept, or assume the responsibility of)
  • Essentially, God gave us all these blessings, but what do we do to the bountiful gifts God has bestowed upon us?



1) On pages 103-104, note the italicized section:

  • What do the Lally brothers fight each other for?
  • Based on the identical gifts, how do the Lally parents view their sons?
  • What do you think are the Lally parents' priorities in life?

2) On page 104, how do the boys react to their seeing the buffalo killed? In contrast, how does Wheaties react?
3) On page 105, note what Lally 2 asks. This is why he snuck out in chapter 1 (the action of which had not yet occurred in the plot timeline).
4) On page 105, note where the boys go as soon as they return to camp from their excursion to the buffalo preserve.

  • Why would they be concerned with tending to their horses at this time?
  • Why could they not abide the company of humans? (abide: to put up with, tolerate)

5) Note the italicized section on pages 105-106:

  • What is Teft's family's financial status: rich or poor?
  • List and briefly describe Teft's law-breaking incidents.
  • What does Teft's father do every time his son breaks the law? What do you think this has taught Teft?

6) Note the last two paragraphs of the chapter on page 106.

  • This is where the plot loops back around to where we began in chapter 1.
  • Goodenow throws up, but now we know why.
  • Cotton wakes up after his bad dream, and now we know what caused that dream. Why do you think he dreamed that his mother was killing the boys in the dream?
  • Cotton realizes that Lally 2 is gone, but now we know why he left and where he is going.


CHAPTER 13 (This chapter picks up where chapter 10 ends, with the boys wallowing in blood. However, we now know where the blood came from and where they are.)

1) On page 107, note the Bedwetters' reaction to their wallowing in blood. How is it contrasted with those who will be shooters the next day? Why would the author highlight this contrast?
2) On page 108, note the time.
3) On page 108, what is the Bedwetters' objective?
4) On page 111, who, of his own volition, crawls out onto the catwalk to discern the layout of the pens? When else has this character shown that he will strike out on his own in order to accomplish a goal?
5) Note the italicized section on pages 111-112:

  • On page 111, who wakes up and realizes that Lally 2 was gone? Even though this is not the main thrust of the flashback, it is further proof of this character's leadership.
  • Describe Lally 2's relationship with Sheba and how it came to be.
  • What achievement does Lally 2 earn with Sheba?

6) Based on pages 112-113, try to sketch a general layout of the pens. Don't fret if you are unable to understand the specifics; I won't bust your chops on knowing a detailed layout of the pens.

7) Notice the description of the buffalo offered on pages 113-114: “Given reasonable situations, a man might reasonably guess how a buffalo would behave, but these beasts, deprived of the open range and comparative freedom they had known from birth, cut out from the big herd and stockaded for three days without food and water and goaded by alien sounds and smells, were totally unpredictable.” The buffalo are being compared to the Bedwetters.

  • In what figurative way have the Bedwetters been "cut off" from what they have known from birth by being sent to Box Canyon Boys Camp for the summer?
  • At the camp, in what figurative way(s) are the Bedwetters “cut out” from the “big herd” of other campers? That is, what do people do to isolate the Bedwetters?
  • At the camp, the Bedwetters are, of course, fed; however, what figurative necessities for survival (that all humans need) are the Bedwetters not given?

8) On page 114, note the paragraph that includes the reference to Fairy Rings:

  • What are fairy rings?
  • Why did buffalo make them?
  • Why are the buffalo circling now?
  • What do the Bedwetters do (twice so far in the novel) that is similar to this tactic of the buffalo?

9) At the end of the chapter, what fear has Cotton? Why?



1) On pages 119-120, why does Cotton want the group to bump again?

  • On page 120, notice the sentence that reads, "The wolves were kept at bay."
    • kept at bay: driven back
    • Recall the previous chapter: why do buffalo circle up?
    • What figurative wolves are being kept at bay when the Bedwetters bump?
    • What similarities do you think the Bedwetters and the buffalo have in this novel?

2) On page 120, what is the new plan regarding the opening and closing of the multifarious gates?
3) On page 121, what is Cotton's plan to scare the animals into running out of their pens?

  • Why is this method so significant (and challenging) with regard to the boys and their fears?

4) Note the italicized section on pages 122-124:

  • On page 122, what type of leader is Cotton? Write down details that describe him.
  • On pages 122-124, note and describe the boys' second raid.
    • How did they trick everybody else?
    • What did they steal as everyone else was in a quandary?
    • What did Teft do to each of the trophies?
    • Why does the camp director let them stay? What stipulation does he enact?
    • What aspect of the raid creeped out the other campers, thereby leading to an end to the Bedwetters' tormenting by the other campers?
    • What other normal camp goings-on ceased?

4) What seems to have happened by the end of the chapter?



1) On pages 126-127, how do the boys celebrate?
2) Note the italicized section on pages 127-128:

  • What did the psychologist's year-end report reveal about Goodenow?
  • What is his stepdad's reaction to the report?
  • What does his stepdad decide to do in order to make his stepson tougher?
  • From the top of the stairs, what does Goodenow hear his stepdad say about him (the boots or cosmetics remark)?

3) On pages 128-130, what’s the problem? Why was their celebration premature?
4) Note the italicized section on pages 130-133:

  • What war is linked to Cotton's childhood?
    • Think about the connections between the Bedwetters, the buffalo, and the soldiers in Vietnam. Think!
  • On page 131, what is Cotton's only fear regarding the war?
  • On page 132, Cotton realizes his mother's greatest fear. What is it?
  • On page 132, note the sentence that reads, "To remain a girl, he realized, she had to keep her son a boy." Based on this quotation, explain why Cotton dreams that his mother is the person shooting the Bedwetters in his dream from chapter 1.

5) On page 133, regarding the Bedwetters, what does it mean when Cotton realizes he needs to "Gentle them"?
6) On page 134, think about the following issues:

  • What is the plan to get the buffalo truly free?
  • Why is the feed truck called the Judas truck?
    • What did Judas do to Jesus?
    • What is the truck used to do to the animals, who follow it like sheep? That is, where does it ultimately lead the animals?
    • Also, what did Judas do to himself after his betrayal? What might this foreshadow in the novel?



1) On page 136, what does Lally 2 say to leave behind before they start the final part of their mission to free the buffalo?
2) Note the italicized section on pages 136-137:

  • How and why did Lally 2's pillow get burned?
  • Why did Lally 1 choose this particular item to attempt to defile?

3) Note the italicized section on page 138:

  • What is expected of Teft?
  • Since he is an underachiever, what did his dad do in order to try to secure his admittance at Dartmouth? How did this go?
  • What did the headmaster suggest might help Teft?

4) On page 141, note the paragraph that begins "Through the darkness..."

  • We are given a description of the boys in the truck from the perspective of the buffalo.
  • The phrase "its back" refers to what?
  • The phrase "whitefaced whippersnappers" refers to whom?
  • One is said to be gripping a "stick of steel and wood"
    • Who is gripping this? (See page 137.)
    • What is the stick?
  • What is the "bust of a king of their own kind"?

5) On page 142, note the paragraph beginning "Beasts and boys..."

  • First, read this paragraph and savor its beauty. It's quite a contrast to the description given of the shooters earlier (pages 94-101).
  • How is the Bedwetters' interaction with the buffalo different than the shooters' interactions during the annual hunt?
  • What does it mean to say that the boys were "children once more?" That is, what childlike quality does their interaction with the buffalo bring about?
  • What Biblical location is distinctly alluded to in this paragraph?



1) Note the italicized section on pages 145-146:

  • Why does Sid Shecker prize wealth so much?
  • Why is Sammy sent down to his father in the hotel?
  • Describe the pie-eating bet.
  • What lesson does Sid tell Sammy regarding the outcome of this bet?

2) On page 147, what is the Bedwetters' state of mind?
3) On page 147, find the two references near the top of the page in which the Bedwetters are distinctly compared to the buffalo, especially based on the information we read on the bottom of page 100 through the top of page 101.
4) On page 148, Cotton says that freeing the buffalo is "doing something for the West. Which has done one hell of a lot for us."

  • What has the West done for these boys during the course of this summer?

5) On page 149, what reason does Teft give as to the impossibility of cutting the engine?
6) Who is Ralph? (More details to come in the next chapter.)



1) On pages 150-152, note the story of Ralph:

  • Describe the story.
  • What's the lesson according to Teft?

2) Note the italicized section on pages 152-153:

  • What did the Lally brothers think of the Swiss psychiatrist?
  • In what activity did he have the brothers partake? What do you think the results revealed about the Lally family dynamic?
  • Why did the boys never get the chance to follow up with this doctor?
  • What trouble did the boys cause on the U.S.S. United States?

3) On page 156, what does Cotton realize is probably happening back at the preserve?
4) On page 156, what time is it? (It's written in words, not numbers.)
5) On page 158, note the interesting allusion to Cotton's dream from chapter 1. What comments are meant to remind us of this dream?
6) At the end of the chapter, what obstacle have the boys encountered?


CHAPTER 19 (Garbled lyrics to "Home on the Range" are presented in this chapter. Take a look at the real lyrics and speculate as to why the author would include these recognizable but distorted lyrics intermittently throughout this chapter and the next.)

1) On page 161, who is on the way?
2) On the top of page 162, the boys are in Disland.

  • Note the three words beginning with dis- in the next sentence. Those three words describe the mental state in which the boys find themselves. The author calls this state of mind "Disland" because it is characterized by three words that begin with the prefix mentioned.

3) On pages 162-163, what does Cotton tell Teft to do?
4) Note the italicized section on pages 163-167. This is perhaps the most important flashback in the entire novel.

  • In the first paragraph of this section on page 163, what have the Bedwetters realized about themselves throughout the course of their summer? This is a direct reference to Cotton's saying the West had done a good deal for them on page 148.
    • balm: anything that heals, soothes, or mitigates (lessens) pain
    • annealed: toughened
  • Describe the camping trip to the Grand Canyon:
    • Which two teams went?
    • Explain the bet that was made.
    • On page 166, how did Cotton try to motivate the other Bedwetters?
    • What was the result of the bet?
    • What were the Apaches forced to hand over to the Bedwetters?
    • What becomes of the chamber pot? How is this symbolic when you think about the Bedwetters' reputation now that they have beaten the Apaches?


1) On page 168, what is Cotton able to do to the fence? How?
2) On page 169 at the bottom, of what does Cotton remind the Bedwetters? (This has been foreshadowed; see pages 44-45.)
3) On page 170, what does Cotton do to spur the buffalo to run through the opening in the fence?

  • What do the buffalo do as soon as they make it through the opening?
  • What happens to Cotton's truck as it goes through the opening in the fence?

4) On page 171, what are several reasons as to what might have caused Cotton's fate to unfold the way it did?
5) On the very last page, what do the Bedwetters yell at the adults as they approach the Bedwetters?

  • Now turn back to the very last page of chapter 4 and note the very similar phrase yelled.
  • What is the similarity between the two situations during which the Bedwetters yelled this type of phrase?

6) Turn back to page 73, and look at the song titles mentioned. What is their significance to the plot now that you know how it ends?


second novel assignment sample:


  • Click HERE for the sample that was used for the previous assignment if you want a reminder about formatting. BE CAREFUL: the new, final assignment is at the top of this page.