Reading Discussion Questions for
Mayhem at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West
by Fedora AMIS
What to wear: The one item in your wardrobe that says “Wild West” better than any other.
What to drink: Lemonade
What to serve: Oatmeal Cookies.
1. Jemmy’s mother won’t let her travel without a chaperone. If you were in Jemmy’s place, would you react as she did to being under the thumb of Miss Turaluralura Snodderly?
2. Did you ever want to live in 1898? Do you still want to after reading Mayhem at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West?
3. How does Jemmy see herself? Is having a career desirable for a girl in her position? In the 19th century, women who wanted careers instead of families were considered unnatural. Does that attitude still hold true today?
4. How do you view Jemmy’s relationship with her partner, photographer Hal Dwight? With her hostess Mrs. Obadiah Koock?
5. Celebrity is important in Mayhem at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. How did the 19th Century treat people with talent or charisma? Do we value fame differently in our own times? Do celebrities have extra responsibility to be good role models? Do they deserve the “perks” they receive? Is the price they pay in privacy too high for the benefits they enjoy?
6. What is Jemmy’s attitude toward friendship? Toward family? Do these views change during the course of the book?
7. Which of the ladies do you believe to be most representative of the 19th century--Aunt Tilly Snodderly, Annie Oakley, or Dorothea Koock?
8. What about Scalager and Scalager’s woman? Do you have sympathy for either?
9. After Jemmy’s father died and her mother opened their home to boarders, Jemmy had to learn to do physical work. Has that strengthened her character as well as her muscles? Would she have been the same daring Jemmy if her father had lived?
10. Trappings of 19th century life--especially guns--take on added meaning in Mayhem at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. What do rifles and shotguns mean to Annie? to Jemmy? Is the firearm more than just a clue?
11. Showmanship and pageantry form a central theme. Did any of the extravaganzas surprise you? Were the elaborate entertainments of yesteryear less spectacular than modern ones?
12. When Jemmy is thwarted in achieving her dreams, she either runs away or takes a “wait and watch” approach. Why? Would another approach have worked better?
13. Striving to “Be all that you can be” is prized in America. That may explain why some famous criminals like Billy the Kid or Butch Cassidy are admired. Is it possible to draw the line between good and bad aspirations when bad actions often win more rewards than good behavior?
14. In life, some events turn out to be very different from our original hopes and plans. Could the debacle at the Wild West Show have been avoided? How?
15. Questions of money and social expectations run through this novel. Jemmy’s uncle Erwin McBustle is rich. The Koocks of Sedalia are also “comfortable.” What about the not-so-comfortable and the not-so-likeable? Old Maid Aunt Tilly lives on the charity of her family. What would happen to Auntie in today’s world?