1. What word is omitted in the title of the second section? Why do you think Hogg chose to tell this story through the private memoir of a now-deceased man?
2. What features of the narrator's self image and views of others are apparent from the opening paragraphs?
3. What seem to be features of Robert's character? How are we made aware of them?
4. What are some unusual features of the narrative? Are there interesting inconsistencies or gaps in his self-revelations? What effect is created by the narrator's lack of reliability?
5. Can you think of literary antecedents for this work? Do you know of other instances of the literary use of an unreliable narrator?
6. What are some aspects of the characterization of John Barnet the servant? Why do you think his remarks are placed early in the Memoirs? Are there other instances in which we hear the opinions of servants or countrypeople, and how are these used in the narrative? (Robert's servant, weaver and his wife, tale of Aubermuchty)
7. What beliefs were associated with "justification" by the most extreme Presbyterians? According to Hogg, what doctrines did they allegedly abhor?
8. What seem to be Robert's actual motives for killing his brother?
9. How does Robert behave toward his mother? What are we to make of this? How does he respond to women?
10. What is his relationship with his natural and spiritual father Wringhim? What finally happens to Wringhim, and how do you account for this?
11. Under what circumstances does Gil-Martin appear to Robert? What does his name mean? What is the significance of the fact that the stranger at first resembles Robert?
12. What do you make of the fact that he repeatedly changes appearance? Refuses to enter homes? Dislikes prayer? Reads his own version of Scriptures? States that he will not acknowledge his father? Claims authority to offer dominion and honor in his kingdom?
13. How/when is Gil-Martin's true character revealed? What effect does he have on Robert's happiness and character? Does this effect increase? In moments of conflict, what does Gil-Martin do?
14. Why is Robert unable to perceive the identity of his friend for so long? What are some stages in Robert's decline?
15. How would you describe the relation between Robert and the stranger? Can you offer psychological interpretations of their relationship and Robert's mental state? What seems to be revealed about Robert's mental state by the incident in which a mother accuses him of raping her child? By his long periods of memory lapse?
16. Are there comic or humorous aspects to the tale? Do these reinforce its grimmer qualities?
17. How is Scots/dialect speech used within the narrative?
18. What crimes does Robert commit/help commit? What are some motives for each? What propels the novel's narrative suspense? What finally brings about his death?
19. What are some differences between the editor's account and that of the "sinner"?
20. What issues does this novel raise about conceptions of truth, morality, human personality and point of view? Is the devil a "real person" in the text's worldview, or a projection of a part of Robert's mind? Did Robert actually commit all the crimes which he mentions or of which he is accused?
21. How is the use of alcohol treated in the book? How does the novel deal with issues of sexuality? Are there any erotic overtones in the relationship of Robert and his fascinating friend?
22. What are some of the novel's most interesting and powerful passages, and why?
23. What enables the "justified sinner" to typeset his book? What comments does the narrative make on what kind of books will sell, and what is the fate of his manuscript?
24. Do you think the novel ends effectively? What is added by the editor's/author's concluding record and remark? Do you think the corpse described is actually that of the writer of the narrative, and if so, what does this contribute to the story's final effect? If not, why are we given an inconsistent and false account?
25. What part does "James Hogg" himself play in the final scenes? How may Hogg's social status have influenced the tone or motifs of this book? How does his stance differ from that of Scott?
26. How is the reader expected to respond to Robert's actions and plight? Does the reader feel any sympathy, and if so, on what grounds? What causes Robert to flee, what difficulties does he encounter, and what is his final plight?
27. Do you find the narrative in all respects psychologically plausible?
28. Does the reader feel any sympathy/respect for the narrator?
29. What might be the effect of reading the tale of a consistently villainous character, and might this effect differ for different readers?
30. What themes or values do you think are implicit in Hogg’s tale and mode of narration?
31. Does the tale show a development or change in its protagonist’s character, actions or mental states? If not, what alternative features of organization create interest or suspense? What notions of sexuality seem implicit in the presentation of the “sinner”’s response to women?
32. How may the content or mode of narration of this tale have influenced later works of literature, including dramatic monologues with deceptive or criminal narrators?
See also short stories, "The Cameronian Preacher's Tale"