Study Questions for John Barth's Lost in the Funhouse

As I mentioned in our initial class meeting and, as the author himself states in the Author's Note that precedes the formal beginning of the volume, Barth intends his text to be a "series" meant to be experienced "all at once" as if these narratives comprise a single, unified story. Barth's claims present us with certain challenges: How do these seemingly disparate metafictional stories align to form a coherent whole? Is coherence in fact desired? What is the subject of this extended story? In addition to considering these broad issues, consider some of the following questions as you move through Lost in the Funhouse:

  • What concepts link these stories or conceptually unify them?
  • What is the specific subject of each story?
  • Barth begins Funhouse with "Night Tale," a moebius strip implying an endless iteration of "Once upon a time there was a story that began once upon a time..." Does this "story" somehow encapsulate the motive[s] sustaining the entire text?
  • How would you characterize the narrator of each story? Who tells these tales?
  • Does Barth deliberately toy with and undermine conventional narrative forms to suggest that there are alternative ways to present reality or to challege the very idea of reality, to suggest that it is impossible to capture reality through fiction?
  • Is Barth violently breaking free of typical storytelling conventions, or is he simply masking a very traditional narrative form in something that "looks" unique and groundbreaking?