Study Questions for John Varley's "The Persistence of Vision" [1978]

As Masri suggests, Varley's story draws on aspects of the 1960s counterculture to imagine an unusual communal society in a near future science fiction/fantasy. She also suggests that the story is governed at least in part by a "moral ambiguity" (775). As you read the story, consider whether or not you agree with Masri's assessment while also considering some of the following issues:

  1. How would you describe the situation of the story? That is, what are the specific personal, social, and political conditions that cause the protagonist to begin wandering westward? Are the conditions described by Varley--through his first-person narrator--an extension of mid-to-late 1970s conditions in America?
  2. What historical events does Varley draw on to create a sense of plausibility for his story and in particular for the existence of Keller as a utopian community? That is, internal to the story, what precipitates the residents of Keller to leave their East Coast lives and establish Keller?
  3. Do you agree with Masri that the story is governed by moral ambiguity? Or does Varley, through his description of the forms of communication operating in Keller and through other devices effectively establish the events in that community as somehow "natural"?
  4. What ultimately causes the protagonist to leave Keller despite his feeling that the residents of the community were "the best friends [he'd] ever had, maybe the only ones" (808)?
  5. Why is the story titled "The Persistence of Vision"? What specific moments or details in the story point to the relevance of this concept?
  6. Ultimately, do you see this story as science fiction or fantasy? What details would you cite to support your decision?
  7. Why does the protagonist refer to the Mary Celeste and then ask "Where are the Brigadoons of yesterday?" near the end of the story? (810).