The Shopping-Bag Lady

Author

Gregg, Linda

Genre

Poetry

Overview

In this poem, from Gregg's book Alma (1985), the narrator reflects on a murder victim—one of the anonymous urban women who "carry all they own in bags." Describing the "sideways and disconcerting" way the woman solicited money from strangers on the subway, the narrator identifies "disgrace" and "failure" in the encounter. How do you think she responded to the woman? How would you (or have you) responded in her place? This poem can lead to dialogue about the possibilities and limits of human connection, especially as it pertains to service.

Full Text*

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Type

Reading

Themes

Connection and RelationshipExclusion and BelongingGiving and ReceivingLove and CompassionMoney and WealthMotives and ValuesPoverty and NeedPower and PrivilegeSocial and Political Change

Big Questions

How do we respond to strangers?What does it mean to be alone?What prevents us from being compassionate?How should we respond to people and communities in need?How do we know or identify privilege?

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. Why wouldn't the narrator guess at the contents of the murdered lady's sack?
  2. Why does “the nice girl” walk at an angle not exactly away?
  3. What does it mean for the woman to “stand in our attention as if it were a palpable thing”? What effect, if any, does it have on those watching?
  4. How many homeless women are there in this poem?
  5. Why is the disgrace “God's” and the failure “ours”?
  6. Who do you identify with in the poem? Who can you not identify with in the poem?
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