Readers’ Group Discussion Questions for The Ghost of Milagro Creek
What does the title, The Ghost of Milagro Creek, suggest to you? When do ghosts appear in the novel, literally and figuratively? How do miracles play an important role in people’s lives? Why are some miracles more acceptable than others?
Throughout the novel, different characters narrate events in a variety of mediums. How does each character’s form of expression reveal more about him or her? In what ways does this chorus of voices add to the texture of the story, and how does it relate to the novel’s theme of cultural diversity? Why does Mister lack a narrative voice?
At her own funeral, Abuela narrates, “Whatever I was, Spanish or Indian: nurse or nutcase, dead or alive – I would be remembered.” What do you think she is? Why?
Chief plays various roles in the novel: he is a pig farmer, a shaman, a romancer, a father-figure, and a madman. What essential elements of his character remain throughout these transitions? How is his identity influenced by the perception of others? In what ways does the characterization of Chief represent the portrayal of Native Americans?
What is the significance of the bridge that crosses Milagro Creek? Why do Mister and Tomas meet here to perform the double-suicide? Do you think that Mister pulled the trigger too soon, or that Tomas chose not to shoot? What was at stake for each man?
Although most writers don’t consciously use symbols, they often appear in literature. Consider some classic symbols in The Ghost of Milagro Creek: eggs, water, fire, and birds. Locate scenes containing these symbols and explore their significance. What are the implications of the staurolite crystal that Cisco Cisneros introduces to his science class in the prologue?
The character Raquel O’Brien undergoes dramatic changes in the novel, from her first appearance as the high-strung teenager “Santa-Girl” to a pregnant young woman seeking recluse in a monastery. Why do you think she originally chose Tomas Mondragón over Mister Romero? What kind of relationship do you think she will have with Mister? How does her writing reflect her growth as an individual?
Consider the relationship between the epigraph, “The dead are silent, but the rocks can speak,” and the petroglyphs that divide the sections of the novel. How do these rock drawings “speak” for the chapters they represent? In a sense, the characters of the novel are reading the stories of their ancestors drawn in the rock around them. How do you think the ancient inhabitants of New Mexico would read this contemporary story?
Manny Pettit, the Catholic priest from Wisconsin who is depicted with humor early on in the novel, gradually becomes an ominous presence. At what point do you sense the severity of his shortcomings? Compare his views to those of other religious leaders in the barrio and at the monastery.
The pilgrimage to Chamayo is an actual event that takes place in New Mexico every year on Good Friday. In The Ghost of Milagro Creek, Mister Romero disguises himself as a religious walker in this pilgrimage in order to escape from jail. How is the walk a metaphor for the larger journey he is taking? What is the significance of the obstacles he must face? What part does his final departure with Rocky in the Hoochie Mobile, with Ernesto in pursuit, play into his journey? What do you think will happen next?