1. Why is so much attention given to the Pontifex forebears of Ernest?
2. What is revealed by comparing the father-son relationship of George and Theobald Pontifex with that of Theobald and Ernest?
3. What advantages are gained from Overton's serving as narrator?
4. What effect is achieved from Christina's being presented more sympathetically than Theobald?
5. How does Ernest remain a credible character even though he rapidly changes from a very foolish to a very wise person?
6. What importance can be attached to the qualities which the idealized characters share?
7. What purpose is served by the numerous digressions in the novel?
8. What qualities of Butler's humor make it especially relevant to the author's purpose?
9. As the novel progresses, what is the respective importance of the external and internal hindrances to Ernest's progress?
10. In what ways do Towneley and Pryer act as contrasting foils to Ernest?
11. What symbolic events foreshadow Ernest's final philosophical and religious position?
12. What purpose is served by the softening of the criticism leveled at Ernest's tormentors?
13. Other than providing a feast of ribaldry, what does Mrs. Jupp contribute to the novel?
14. What is the importance of irony to the novel?
15. Does a change in the rhythm of the novel at the end add or detract from the overall success of the novel?
16. How does the novel dramatize Butler's views on evolution?
17. Why is relatively little attention given to Ernest's years as a student at Cambridge University?
18. How well does the novel fulfill its central purpose?
19. Why does Ellen fail to become a completely realized character?
20. Which of the following classifications seems most fitting to you for the novel — bildungsroman, confession, or apology — and why?